Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Blackhouse: Peter May

Description from the dust jacket of my edition:
When a grisly murder occurs on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland's Outer Hebrides that bears the hallmarks of the work of a similar killer on the Scottish mainland, Edinburgh detective and native  islander  Fin Macleod is dispatched to investigate, embarking at the same time on a voyage into his own troubled past.
At the beginning of the story, the reader learns two things about Fin Macleod. He has been taking some time away from his job as a police detective in Edinburgh because his son died a few weeks earlier and his relationship with his wife is not very good. His boss insists that he return to work and sends him off to the Isle of Lewis to investigate a murder there, since Fin was an investigating officer on the similar case that occurred in Edinburgh.

Fin is not exactly welcomed when he arrives in the village where he grew up. The DCI in charge, Tom Smith, doesn't want his help or his expertise. His old friends and acquaintances are wary, at best, since he hasn't been back to the island in 20 years.


The story consists primarily of flashbacks to Fin Macleod's childhood intermingled with Fin's experiences on the island as he renews old relationships. I usually like a mystery that is as much about the characters in the book as about the detection of the crime, but in this case it seemed like there was too much of the protagonist's backstory and not enough about the crime. That part of the book seems like an afterthought, although both stories come together at the end.

This was Peter May's goal when writing the book. From an interview at Visit Scotland, May says:
When someone becomes known as a crime writer, publishers and booksellers expect all future books to be in the same genre. The Blackhouse had a crime in it, but as far as I was concerned the crime was nothing more than a vehicle to tell the personal story of Fin Macleod, his life and his upbringing on the island.
The most effective part of this book is the setting and the atmosphere. It is the protagonist's memories of his childhood that provide us with a picture of life on the Isle of Lewis 20-30 years earlier. The story is powerful and well told.

May did not intend for this book to turn into a series, and had no desire to be tied to a lot of books about one character, but he was persuaded by his French publishers to write two more books featuring Fin. Even though I was not entirely satisfied with this book, I will read the next book in the series. I am very interested in how May continues it.

I am also very excited that the Enzo Files, an earlier series by Peter May, has been reissued in trade paperback editions. I have been looking for the first book in that series for years.

This series is hugely popular and if you haven't already read it, you should probably ignore my reservations and give it a try. See these other posts on The Blackhouse. Each of them have more information on the author, his other books, or the setting:



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Publisher:   SilverOak, 2012 (orig. publ. 2009 in France)
Length:       357 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Fin Macleod, #1
Setting:       Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased my copy.


18 comments:

  1. I really liked THE BLACK HOUSE but much less so the next two books in the series.

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    1. That is interesting, Patti. Maybe the author did not have that much of himself invested in the books.

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  2. Tracy, I'm sorry you didn't care for it. I have the first of the Enzo books to read. Looking forward to that. Getting ready to start Coffin Road next.

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    1. It isn't that I did not like the book, Peggy, I just expected to like it so much more. So many readers loved it. Peter May does tell a good story. And I learned so much about the area.

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  3. YES, your comments about the backstory is what kicked me out of the story. I didn't finish this one. I wanted more of the crime/present story and all that backstory just bored me. I remember it being unexpected and a major let-down. It's a popular series. I would have liked it more if it didn't have all those flashbacks. And I have enjoyed stories that utilize flashbacks heavily. This story just didn't employ them well. ---Keishon

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    1. I did not like the story for the first half of book at all, so I can understand why you gave up on it. It picked up in the second half for me. Another reviewer liked it but said it was too long, and I do think I would have liked it better had it been pared down some.

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  4. Sorry to hear this one didn't sweep you away, Tracy. I have to be honest; I liked it more than you did. Still, I understand your reservations about it. I wonder what you'll think of the next if you read it...

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    1. You put that very well, Margot. I wanted to be swept away in the story, and it did not do that for me. I don't regret reading the book, though. The author's knowledge of the area alone made it worthwhile, and his problems getting the book published are just amazing. I cannot understand why he had problems initially find a publisher.

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  5. TracyK: Possible because I came to the series with modest expectations, I had not been excited by one of his earlier books, I enjoyed it far more. Maybe my reaction is best explained by me charging off to buy the next in the series the day I finished The Blackhouse.

    Overall, May's trilogy of the Hebrides was my favourite fiction on 2015.

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    1. Bill, I do think my expectations had a lot to do with my reaction to the book. Possibly I will like the 2nd book a lot more, just because I (think I) know what to expect. Since you liked the whole trilogy so much I am sure I will find it worth reading.

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    1. Thanks, Ann. I am glad you visited.

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  7. I've not read anything from May, Tracy. Despite your reserved enjoyment, I'll probably start with this one when I do get to him.

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    1. This book is definitely worth reading, Col, and May is a very talented writer. I have read the first in his Yan and Campbell series (also called the China Thrillers) and have a couple more in that series to read. I just purchased the first in the Enzo Macleod series. And I am interested in a couple of his standalone mysteries also.

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  8. I keep coming across this name of course - so many bloggers have written about him, many with such enthusiasm. I think I would have the same reservations you have. One day I will get to him...

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    1. I have seen mostly very positive reviews to this series, Moira. He wrote two previous series, which I think are very different from the Fin Macleod series. One I have sampled but it has been a while. I will be trying more of his books. Maybe it was just the wrong time for me to read this one.

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  9. I wrote about this earlier, but the comment isn't here.

    I loved the Lewis Trilogy by Peter May. His sense of place, history, character development, etc., all interested me. I read one book after the other.

    The trilogy was second on my best books of 2016, after Tana French's The Trespasser.

    I read Coffin Road a but later, but didn't find it as interesting as the trilogy featuring Finley MacLeod.

    I had post-good-book slump after I left the Hebrides and keep waiting for May to write more about MacLeod and his friends and family.

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    1. I am sorry that your comment got lost, Kathy. I checked and could not find it in spam, but I did find one other from another commenter from a while back, so I will check that more often now.

      I do remember you really liked the Lewis trilogy a lot. I am expecting to like books 2 and 3 more now that I know more what to expect, but we will see. The setting is wonderful and I never really knew anything about the Outer Hebrides.

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