When Detective Sime Mackenzie boards a light aircraft at Montreal’s St. Hubert airfield, he does so without looking back. For Sime, the 850-mile journey ahead represents an opportunity to escape the bitter blend of loneliness and regret that has come to characterise his life in the city. Travelling as part of an eight-officer investigation team, Sime’s destination lies in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Only two kilometres wide and three long, Entry Island is home to a population of around 130 inhabitants – the wealthiest of which has just been discovered murdered in his home. The investigation itself appears little more than a formality. The evidence points to a crime of passion: the victim’s wife the vengeful culprit. But for Sime the investigation is turned on its head when he comes face to face with the prime suspect, and is convinced that he knows her – even though they have never met. Haunted by this certainty his insomnia becomes punctuated by dreams of a distant past on a Scottish island 3,000 miles away. Dreams in which the widow plays a leading role. Sime’s conviction becomes an obsession. And in spite of mounting evidence of her guilt he finds himself convinced of her innocence, leading to a conflict between the professional duty he must fulfil, and the personal destiny that awaits him.

Following the sucessful and highly enjoyable Hebridean trilogy comprising The Black House, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen, Peter May returns with a new standalone, which again reflects the strength of his storytelling and the precision of his building of atmosphere and location. Using a split narrative, May carefully weaves the themes of time and history into an interlocking plot, comprising of real life historical events and a contemporary murder mystery…

I don’t usually read other reviews of a book that I am planning to review myself, but I was very interested to see other’s perceptions of the effectiveness of the dual storyline at play. The central character of the piece, disillusioned Montreal detective Sime Mackenzie, an interloper through his nationality, Scottish and a man set apart from his work colleagues both socially and professionally, is used as the conduit for both aspects of the story- a modern police procedural influenced by the events of the past. As Mackenzie seeks to unravel the possible mariticide of an influential island dwelling businessman, he becomes more than a little involved with the chief suspect, and therein slowly unfolds the possible historical connection between himself and the accused. May begins to reveal the history of Mackenzie’s forebears through a series of diaries and dreams, tapped into by Mackenzie’s sleepless nights in the wake of his marriage break-up,  charting the enforced immigration, in the same way as the more well-documented Irish exile, sparked by the illegal foreclosure and clearance of Highland farms  many years previously. This is where the real strength of the story lies for me, not only in the sheer interest that these people’s struggle raises up in the reader’s consciousness, but the fact that it gives full vent to May’s undoubted prowess in the depiction  and merging of location and history, so evident in his previous Hebridean trilogy.

I was totally immersed in the troubles of Mackenzie’s predecessors, making the harsh journey to Canada, and the obstacles awaiting them in establishing new lives abroad. I found the gradual unfolding of this slice of history totally engaging throughout, that the more contemporary aspect of the book was as just a small interuption in what I perceive as the more important  and well drawn facet of the story, depicting a cruel and unnecessary fate of decent folk at the hands of the English oppressor. It was beautifully rendered due to the strength of May’s control of the portrayal of these events, which strike an emotive chord with reader. Other reviewers prefer the contemporary storyline, but I just found it a little drawn out and the ending a little hackneyed, as much as May’s sense of setting breathed life and interest into this plot. Indeed, I found Mackenzie and his infatuation with the victim’s wife more than a little irritating, but appreciate that this was the key to May’s central remit of the resonance of the past in our contemporary existence. Overall a satisfying read, with the historical aspect of the novel in particular coming to the fore.

Read other reviews of Entry Island:

Crimepieces 

 Crime Fiction Lover

Peter May talks Entry Island: Crime Thriller Fella

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

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