Friday 3 December 2021

The Blackhouse

Finished December 1
The Black House by Peter May

As always with May, I found so much more in this book than just the mystery. The main character here is Edinburgh detective Fin Macleod. Fin was born and grew up on the Isle of Lewis, one of the northernmost and remote parts of Scotland. Fin has been on leave for the past month after the death of his child Robbie. He is called in to be assigned a case, one that the computer system HOLMES has suggested him for. Earlier in the year, he had a case in Edinburgh that wasn't solved. Now a similar crime scene has turned up on Lewis, near where he grew up. 
The case takes Fin back to the island that he hasn't been to in years, since his maternal aunt died. It also takes him back to the people he knew then, the friends, the enemies, the people he loved and the people he hated. And it brings him back to the events that happened shortly before he left the island for university, ones that he still doesn't fully understand. 
Besides the very interesting character of Fin, this book acquainted me with the Isle of Lewis. The details of the landscape are drawn well by May, and provide a real sense of the island, as well as the lives lived there. There is also an event that happens annual that is specific to one village on the island and a small uninhabited island to the north. May relocates it slightly, but the event really happens and has its roots in antiquity. From at least the Iron Age, men from this village have been going each year to the small island and killing birds for food. They go for a couple of weeks, during nesting season and take birds of a specific age. The prepare the birds, plucking, burning off the pin feathers, and preserving them before bringing them home. The island is small and rocky, with precarious cliffs and only one landing spot for boats. There is an unmanned lighthouse with a small helipad, that is maintained a couple of times a year, and the island is otherwise protected by law. 
I found this particularly interesting, and after reading the passages in the book about this event, I found a video showing some of the real men who do this. It is fascinating. 
This book is dark and has much sadness in it, but it is also a book that brings people to the truth, and shows a community in all its complexity. A great read. This is the first book in a trilogy set around Lewis, and I look forward to reading the others.

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