Peter May- The Man With No Face

Jaded Edinburgh journalist Neil Bannerman is sent to Brussels, intent on digging up dirt. Yet it is danger he discovers, when two British men are found murdered. One victim is a journalist, the other a Cabinet Minister: the double-assassination witnessed by the former’s autistic daughter. This girl recalls every detail about her father’s killer – except for one. With the city rocked by the tragedy, Bannerman is compelled to follow his instincts. He is now fighting to expose a murderous conspiracy, protect a helpless child, and unmask a remorseless killer…

Originally published in 1981 as Hidden Faces, and with a little polish here and there, but remaining by and large faithful to the original text, has reissued it for a new generation of readers as The Man With No Face. Written in the 1970s when May himself was a journalist reporting on the upheaval and consternation of Britain aligning itself with the EU, (oh happy days in the light of the current political debacle) the book is based on real life events, amid the corridors of power in Brussels…

Rich with political intrigue, as a slippery politician and a scheming journalist meet their respective murderous ends, I was fascinated by how little politics and political power changes over the course of decades, and responds significantly little to shifts in society. May conveys this world of corruption and power perfectly throughout as jaded, but tenacious Neil Bannerman starts to dig deeper into the outwardly appearing case of murder-suicide that sends shockwaves through the political community in Brussels and London. Of course, there are darker forces at work and with it a deepening sense of danger as Bannerman launches his own investigation, and forms deep attachments to the nearest and dearest of one of the victims.

I think what struck me most about this book is the sense of resistance to change in political circles, and that the story that May constructed over four decades ago is so easily interchangeable with the current political climate, and the groundless fears that being aligned with Europe had then as well as now. Equally, and sadly, that political corruption is something that never goes away, where the self inflating egos of men (predominantly) become even more avaricious with the heightened status and power they attain, and their increasing distance from those they are meant to represent the best interests of. In addition to this May also shines a rather unflattering light on those members of the fourth estate in this wilfully backstabbing and competitive atmosphere, where the copy is all, and professional allegiances are manipulated to get the column inches. It’s an altogether scurrilous world, and May imbues it with colour, tension and a dry wit that resounds with the reader. It’s a real world of dog eat dog, and a lot of them with their eyes on the juiciest bone…

Neil Bannerman is a wonderfully rounded character, beset as he is with the cynicism inherent in his profession as a journalist, but also the way that he reveals another side to his character in his interactions with the daughter, Tania, of his murdered friend. May builds up a superbly empathetic connection between the two of them, particularly in his sensitive portrayal of Tania cast adrift in a world that her autism complicates further, and this is a real standout feature of the book. Refreshingly, May casts an almost empathetic light on the perpetrator of the crimes, and reserves a good degree of bile for some of the less than savoury characters that inhabit the world of journalism and politics so there’s a great mix of heroes and villains.

I am seldom disappointed with Peter May and The Man With No Face proves once again May’s versatility as a writer whichever world his characters are inhabiting. A strangely prescient read with a good dollop of dramatic tension, and yet underpinned by some real heart-warming interludes. Recommended.

 

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

Blog Tour- Peter May- I’ll Keep You Safe

Husband and wife Niamh and Ruairidh Macfarlane co-own Ranish Tweed: a Hebridean company that weaves its own special variety of Harris cloth, which has become a sought-after brand in the world of high fashion. But when Niamh learns of Ruairidh’s affair with Russian designer Irina Vetrov, then witnesses the pair killed by a car bomb in Paris, her life is left in ruins.
Along with her husband’s remains, she returns home to the Isle of Lewis, bereft.
The Paris police have ruled out terrorism, and ruled in murder – making Niamh the prime suspect, along with Irina’s missing husband, Georgy. And so French Detective Sylvie Braque is sent to the island to look into Niamh’s past, unaware of the dangers that await her.
As Braque digs deeper into the couple’s history, Niamh herself replays her life with Ruiairidh, searching her memory for those whose grievances might have led to murder. And with each layer revealed, and every unexpected twist uncovered, the two women find themselves drawn inexorably closer to a killer who will not turn back…

There is little that banishes the January blues quite as effectively as a new book from the popular, and diverse,  crime novelist Peter May. It is with some pleasure that the Raven can declare that I’ll Keep You Safe, another Hebridean outing and laced with a touch of the Parisian, accompanied by leftover Christmas chocolate and a wee dram was, by and large, a real new year treat…

For my review I will only dally fleetingly on the plot of this one, as there are neat little twists and tricks, heralded by the literally explosive beginning that will unsettle, surprise and delight you in equal measure. Integral to the success of these is the structure of the book, and the characterisation, and this is what I would particularly like to draw your attention to. Strangely, I’m going to compare Peter May to a stand up comedian, and here’s why. Just as a good stand up comedian would begin to tell you a story, then seamlessly goes off on what appears to be a largely unconnected tangent, then drawing you back to their original story, and repeating this process to the story’s conclusion, so May uses this same device to great effect. He provides us with a relatively linear plot in that woman’s possibly unfaithful husband is killed in car explosion and setting the reader on the course to find out who did it, but by using casual small references to previous events,  he then takes us on an intriguing circular perambulation to explore these happenings, satisfyingly building up layers of the personal histories of his characters. It’s also akin to looking at an old photograph album, so that we can picture Niamh and Ruairidh at crucial points in their formative years, as well as in the life they build together. Niamh’s life and experiences in particular are a real driving force in the book, and as the book is so closely structured around her grief, confusion and anger, I felt incredibly drawn to her. I enjoyed discovering more about her as the book progressed, and the emotional weight that May invests in her does to a certain extent put other characters in the shade, most notably French detective Sylvie Braque, who aside from her interactions with the island police, disappointingly failed to ignite my interest to any degree. Some of the more minor Hebridean characters like Richard Faulkner of Ranish Tweed, and ruddy faced policeman George Gunn provide some good local colour, but I had mixed feelings about another character who brings strife and chaos in their wake…

Throughout the book I couldn’t shake the sense that although I was enveloped in the characters’ lives, the authorial voice of May was very strong as he embellishes his narrative with the depth of research, the evocation of landscape, and his astute understanding of human frailty and strength compounded with his natural flair of almost seeming to speak to the reader one-to-one. For this reason I found myself genuinely interested in the history of tweed, bizarre burial rites, the dangers of peat, and other random facts, that I will be certain to introduce into conversation when the opportunity arises. But seriously, May’s depiction of the landscape, texture and rhythm of life in this island community is fascinating as always, triggering our senses, and enveloping us completely in the story. I was enthralled by his descriptions and observations, so much so that the strangeness of the ending, which I confess did baffle, and slightly perplex me, faded into the background due to the mesmeric beauty of the four hundred pages which preceded it. I loved the pure storytelling I’ll Keep You Safe, and was again in thrall to May’s ability to so closely draw the reader in to this insular and unique community, and the secrets and lies that come to bear. Your senses will be tantalised, your fancy will be tickled, and I guarantee that ending will get you talking…

(With thanks to Riverrun/Quercus Books for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites

 

 

January 2016 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)As we proceed into the new year, January has found the Raven in slightly pensive mood as to the direction of my blog, and what I review.  Having read fellow bloggers’ reading resolutions, I have decided to come up with a couple of my own….

So, first off, I have pretty much dispensed with my e-reader and consigned it to the interstellar realm of oblivion- a bottom drawer. In my work life I spend my whole day recommending books, proper paper books, and the tactile experience of reading,  and that really is where my heart lies.  I find it such a soulless experience reading on an electronic device , and more often than not just scan down the screen of text so I’m not actually taking in everything I read, which isn’t right for me, or fair to the authors whose work I’m trying to engage with. So from now on, it will be a very rare occurrence for me to read on an e-reader. Viva la book!

I also want to concentrate more on debuts, authors I have not reviewed before, and those strange quirky European delights- a shift of focus that began to a certain degree last year. I will probably post less on mainstream authors as I usually have to read the big new releases as part of my remit as a bookseller, and they are invariably very widely reviewed with a higher profile, whereas I do get a vicarious thrill out of discovering new crime authors and hollering about them. Looking at the next couple of months proof pile, there will be a plethora of debuts hitting this blog!  Obviously, I will still enjoy reading and reviewing  time with my old favourites. You know who you are….

And I have to make time to read more fiction. I had a spell last year where I read over 20 crime books back-to-back, neglecting my overflowing pile of fiction, and leading to a little bit of crime burn-out. There’s some brilliant fiction debuts winging their way to us over the next few months,  I’ll give you an early tip for Anatomy of a Soldier  by Harry Parker out in March- the only book that has ever reduced me to tears, and one of the most honest, harrowing and poignant depictions of war I have ever read. Also there’s some great rediscovered classics coming up for air. Currently in the thrall of Thomas Savage- The Power of the Dog from 1967 which is a sublime mash-up of Annie Proulx and Cormac McCarthy.

So, to January which was chockfull of blog tours, giveaways and some great reads:

BOOKS READ AND REVIEWED

Craig Robertson- In Place of Death

Kevin Wignall- A Death In Sweden

 Nadia Dalbuono- The American

 Ragnar Jonasson- Nightblind 

Tim Baker-Fever City  

Coffin Road book jacketI also read and largely enjoyed Peter May- Coffin Road– a return to the wild outposts of Scotland, with an interesting commentary on the environmental havoc we are waging on our bee populations, alongside an intriguing plotline involving murder and memory loss. Although I didn’t think it was quite as strong as some of his previous books, a Peter May on an offish day is still a delight.

aaaDavid Mark’s Dead Pretty saw a series going from strength to strength, and it is always a delight to spend time in the company of freckled faced detective Aector McAvoy in Humberside. Although I was slightly discombobulated by one of his main characters acting so far out of character, as to be almost unrecognisable, Mark has once again produced an emotional and engaging rollercoaster of a police procedural.

51x9Zv9I5-L__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_And of course, Stuart MacBride’s In The Cold Dark Ground the 10th outing for the wonderful Logan ‘Lazarus’  Macrae and his ex-boss the acid-tongued DCI Steel. Pathos, violence and humour all the way, and always a pleasure, never a chore.

RAVEN’S BOOK OF THE MONTH

theamericanAs I have genuinely enjoyed every book I reviewed this month, this was yet again a tough choice, but Nadia Dalbuono- The American has triumphed. With a  compelling and quixotic central police protagonist, shifting timelines and locations, and interesting commentary on the nefarious and corrupt grip of the Vatican and the CIA,  this intricately researched and gripping tale was an intelligent and hugely satisfying read. Highly recommended and an early contender for the end of the year Top 5.

 

 

Blog Tour- Peter May- Coffin Road- Exclusive Extract

The Big Coffin Road Blog Read Banner

The Big Coffin Road Blog Read

Following on from Lizzy’s Literary Life posting of Part One of The Big Coffin Road Blog Read, Raven Crime Reads takes up the baton for Part Two: The Man I Am. Details of the Coffin Road giveaway follow the extract…

Part Two: The Man I Am

Coffin Road book jacket‘Do you want me to come in with you?’ I hear her say.

‘No, I’m fine, thank you so much.’ But I know that I am far from fine. The cold is so deep inside me that I understand if I stop shivering I could fall into a sleep from which I might never wake. And I stagger off down the path, aware of her watching me as I go. I don’t look back. Beyond a tubular farm gate, a path leads away to an agricultural shed of some kind, and at the foot of the drive, a garden shed on a concrete base stands opposite the door of the cottage, which is set into its gable end.

A white Highland pony feeding on thin grass beyond the fence lifts its head and also watches, curious, as I fumble in wet pockets for my keys. If this is my cottage surely I must have keys for it? But I can’t find any, and try the handle. The door is not locked, and as it opens I am almost knocked from my feet by a chocolate Labrador, barking and snorting excitedly, eyes wide and smiling, paws up on my chest, tongue slashing at my face.

And then he is gone. Through the gate and haring away across the dunes. I call after him. ‘Bran! Bran!’ I hear my own voice, as if it belongs to someone else, and realise with a sudden stab of hope that I know my dog’s name. Perhaps the memory of everything else is just a whisper away.

Bran ignores my calls, and in moments is lost from sight. I wonder how many hours I have been away, and how long he has been shut up in the house. I glance back up the drive, to the tarmac turning area behind the house, and it occurs to me that there is no car, which seems odd in this emotest of places.

A wave of nausea sweeps over me and I am reminded again that I need to raise my core temperature fast, to get out of these clothes as quickly as possible.

I stumble into what seems to be a utility and boot room. There is a washing machine and tumble dryer beneath a window and worktop, a central-heating boiler humming softly beyond its casing. A wooden bench is pushed up against the wall on my left below a row of coats and jackets. There are walking boots and wellies underneath the bench, and dried mud on the floor. I kick off my shoes and rip away the life jacket before struggling unsteadily into the kitchen, supporting myself on the door jamb as I push through the open door.

It is the strangest feeling to enter a house that you know is your own, and yet find not one thing about it that is familiar. The row of worktops and kitchen cabinets on my left. The sink and hob. The microwave and electric oven. Opposite, below a window that gives on to a panoramic view of the beach, is the kitchen table. It is littered with newspapers and old mail. A laptop is open but asleep. Among these things, surely, I will find clues as to who I am. But there are more pressing matters.

I fill the kettle and turn it on, then pass through an archway into the sitting room. French windows open on to a wooden deck, with table and chairs. The view is breathtaking. A porthole window on the far wall looks out on to the cemetery. In the corner, a wood-burning stove. Two two-seater leather settees gather themselves around a glass coffee table. A door leads into a hall that runs the length of the cottage, along its spine. To the right, another door opens into a large bedroom. The bed is unmade and, as I stumble into the room, I see clothes piled up on a chair. Mine, I presume. Yet another door leads off to an en-suite shower room, and I know what I must do.

With fumbling fingers I manage to divest myself of my wet clothes, leaving them lying on the floor where they fall. And, with buckling legs, I haul myself into the shower room.

The water runs hot very quickly, and as I step under it I almost collapse from the warmth it sends cascading over my body. Arms stretched, palms flat against the tiles, I support myself and close my eyes, feeling weak, and just stand there with the water breaking over my head until I feel the heat of it very slowly start to seep into my soul.

I have no idea how long I remain there, but with warmth and an end to shivering comes the return of that same black cloud of apprehension which almost overcame me on the beach. A sense of something unspeakable beyond the reach of recollection. And with that the full, depressing realisation that I still have no grasp of who I am. Or, disconcertingly, even what I look like.

I step from the shower to rub myself briskly with a big, soft bath towel. The mirror above the sink is misted, and so I am just a pink blur when I stoop to peer into it. I slip on a towel-ling bathrobe that hangs on the door and pad back through to the bedroom. The house feels hot, airless. The floor, arm beneath my feet. And as that same warmth infuses my body, so I feel all its aches and pains. Muscles n arms, legs and torso that are stiff and sore. In the kitchen I search for coffee and find a jar of instant. I spoon it into a mug and pour in boiled water from the kettle. I see a jar of sugar, but have no idea if I take it in my coffee. I sip at the steaming black liquid, almost scalding my lips, and think not. It tastes just fine as it is.

With almost a sense of trepidation, I carry it back through to the bedroom and lay it on the dresser, to slip from my bathrobe and stand before the full-length mirror on the wardrobe door to look at the silvered reflection of the stranger staring back at me.

I cannot even begin to describe how dissociating it is to look at yourself without recognition. As if you belong somewhere outside of this alien body you inhabit. As if you have simply borrowed it, or it has borrowed you, and neither belongs to the other.

Nothing about my body is familiar. My hair is dark, and though not long, quite curly, falling wet in loops over my forehead. This man appraising me with his ice-blue eyes seems quite handsome, if it is possible for me to be at all objective. Slightly high cheekbones and a dimpled chin. My lips are pale but fairly full. I try to smile, but the grimace I make lacks any humour. It reveals good, strong, white teeth, and I wonder if I have been bleaching them. Would that make me vain? From somewhere, completely unexpectedly, comes the memory of someone I know drinking his coffee through a straw so as not to discolour brilliantly white teeth made porous by bleach. Or perhaps it is not someone I know, just something I have read somewhere, or seen in a movie.

I seem lean and fit, with only the hint of a paunch forming around my middle. My penis is flaccid and very small – shrunken, I hope, only by the cold. And I find myself smiling, this time for real. So I am vain. Or perhaps just insecure in my masculinity. How bizarre not to know yourself, to find yourself guessing at who you are. Not your name, or the way you look, but the essential you. Am I clever or stupid? Do I have a quick temper? Am I made easily jealous? Am I charitable or selfish? How can I not know these things?

And as for age . . . For God’s sake, what age am I? How hard it is to tell. I see the beginnings of grey at my temples, fine crow’s feet around my eyes. Mid-thirties? Forty?

I notice a scar on my left forearm. Not recent, but quite pronounced. Some old injury. An accident of some kind. There is a graze in my hairline, blood seeping slowly through black hair. And I see also, on my hands and forearms, several small, red, raised lumps with tiny scabs at their centre. Bites of some sort? But they don’t seem to hurt or itch.

I am awakened from my self-appraisal by the sound of barking at the door. Bran back from his gallivant among the dunes. I pull on my bathrobe and go to let him in. He jumps around me with excitement, pushing himself against my legs and thrusting his snout into my hands, seeking their comfort and reassurance. And I realise he must be hungry. There is a tin bowl in the boot room that I fill with water, and as he laps at it thirstily, I search for dog food, finding it finally in the cupboard beneath the sink. A bagful of small ochre nuggets and another bowl. The familiar sound of the food rattling into the bowl brings Bran snuffling hungrily into the kitchen, and I stand back and watch as he devours it.

My dog, at least, knows me. My scent, the sound of my voice, the expressions on my face. But for how long? He seems like a young dog. Two years or less. So he hasn’t been with me for long. Even were he able to talk, how much could he tell me about myself, my history, my life before the time he entered it?

I look around me again. This is where I live. On the end wall of the kitchen there is a map of what I recognise to be the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. How I know that, I have no idea. Is that where I am? Somewhere on that storm-tossed archipelago on the extreme north-western fringe of Europe?

Among the mess of papers on the table, I pick up an envelope that has been torn open. I pull out a folded sheet. A utility bill. Electricity. I unfold it and see that it is addressed to Neal Maclean, Dune Cottage, Luskentyre, Isle of Harris. And at a stroke I know my whole name and where I live.

I sit down at the laptop and brush fingers over the trackpad to waken it from its slumber. The home screen is empty except for the hard-disk icon. From the dock, I open up the mailer. It is empty. Nothing even in its trash. The documents folder, too, reveals nothing but blinking emptiness, as does the trash can in the dock. If this really is my computer, it seems I have left no trace of me in it. And something about the hard, white light it shines in my eyes is almost painful. I close the lid and determine to look again later.

The Big Coffin Road Blog Read continues on Criminal Element on Saturday 16th January with Part Three: The Flannan Isles

Coffin Road by Peter May is out now in hardback (Quercus). You can buy your copy here

GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED-MANY THANKS TO ALL WHO ENTERED. AND THERE WERE MANY!  WINNER IS RHONA M- CONGRATULATIONS!

Coffin Road book jacketThanks to the lovely people at Quercus and MidasPR, I have a copy of  Coffin Road to give away to a lucky winner. To enter please leave your contact email in the comments form (these will not be published) or tweet me @ravencrime with #coffinroadgiveaway. UK only entrants please and the giveaway is open until midnight on Friday 22nd January. Good luck!

 

 

January 2015 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)2015 has certainly begun with a bang with no less than 9 reviews posted, four non-starters (which I am far too polite to name), two blog tours, and a huge amount of incredibly tempting books arriving by the day. You crime readers are in for a few treats in the next couple of months, I can tell you! The only downside has been my appalling performance in the TBR Double Dog Dare Challenge hosted by James Reads Books where I have managed the giddy total of…wait for it…one book from my TBR mountain This may take some time to reach the apex of I feel. But I am not deterred, and am aiming for a more solid performance in February. Maybe two- ha! Anyway, asides from this, lots of exciting stuff to come in the next month. Have a good February everyone.

BOOKS REVIEWED:

Tom Callaghan- A Killing Winter

Elena Forbes- The Jigsaw Man (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Patrick Hoffman- The White Van

Peter May- Runaway

David McCaffrey- Hellbound

Grant Nicol- The Mistake (www.crimefictionlover.com)

 R. S. Pateman- The Prophecy of Bees 

Marcus Sedgwick- A Love Like Blood 

Philip Taffs- The Evil Inside  

RAVEN’S BOOK(S) OF THE MONTH

tom white

Absolute dead heat this month between two books, both from debut authors, reflecting my preferred blog content for this year. First, the utterly marvellous A Killing Winter by Tom Callaghan, with its bleak and atmospheric Kyrgyzstan setting that totally suited a chilly January night’s reading. Perfect for fans of Child 44. Closely followed by Patrick Hoffman’s The White Van– a gritty and spare San Francisco set thriller that oozed violence throughout, yet delivered so much human vulnerability at the same time. Both different and both brilliant…

Peter May- Runaway

RUNAs much as it pains me to draw on the words of Forrest Gump, Peter May’s writing is like a box of chocolates- you never know what you’re going to get. From the brilliant Enzo Files series, to the China thrillers, to, the wonderful Hebridean trilogy, and the haunting standalone Entry Island, May consistently demonstrates his flexibility as a writer, instilling total belief in his characters and locations for us gentle readers. Runaway proves itself an excellent addition to his multifarious back catalogue, and drawing so closely on his own life experiences gives us a delightful insight into the background of one of Britain’s finest crime writers*.

Working with a dual timeline of 1965 and 2015 the story pivots seamlessly between the two as we follow the travails of Jack Mackay, a headstrong seventeen year old in the Sixties, who succumbs to the allure of the bright lights of London, as he and his band (comprising of Maurie, Joe, Luke and my favourite character, Dave) run away from Scotland to seek their fame and fortune. May captures perfectly the impetuousness of youth, and their black and white view of the world, after a series of hapless accidents mar their dreams of fame. Into the mix, May inserts the womanly charms of Rachel, Maurie’s cousin who they liberate from a drug-fuelled abusive relationship along the way, a few interesting brushes with stardom, an encounter with a bizarre hippy therapy group, and a murder where all is not how it appears. With a backdrop of the swinging music scene of the era, and a perfect recreation of London itself, there is much to garner the reader’s interest. Now, zap forward to 2015, and Jack is a disillusioned pensioner lamenting a life where so much more could have happened, However, with the news of a suspicious death linked to his 60’s experience, and spurred on by the terminally ill Maurie, he and the remaining members of his band, up sticks to London with his grandson Ricky, to revisit the past and lay some old ghosts to rest but at what cost? And are some skeletons best to be left nestled in this particular cupboard?

My overarching reaction to this book is one of warmth. I loved the poignancy attached to Jack and his cohorts in their twilight years, haunted by their failed dreams and ambitions, but undercut by a humour and determination of spirit that we so often ignore when we perceive people as old. Likewise, May totally taps into the irascibility and naivety of youth, in the 60’s timeline, and the exploits of this band of hotheads, and their emotional entanglements are powerfully wrought. To my mind, the actual crime element of this book was completely over-ridden by this strong characterisation and the examination of the impetuousness of youth, and the stoicism of age that so dominates the plot. Hence, this was a different reading experience, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed, manipulating my emotions from laughter to sadness, and all points in-between. I liked the utterly authentic recreation of the 1960’s, with its allusions to people, places and fashions, tempered by the relatively anodyne existence of our band of misfits in their later years. A welcome break from the usual crime fiction fare, and highly recommended.

*If like me, you are left wondering how much of May’s experiences are contained in Runaway, have a look at this interview courtesy of Shots, the crime and thriller Ezine, and here at Crime Fiction Lover

Also many thanks to fellow blogger Fiction Fan  for drawing my attention to this musical triumph:

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

Peter May- Entry Island

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)