“The Blackhouse” by Peter May – the first in an excellent trilogy of crime novels set in the Hebrides

For May I am reading books about colour or featuring colour in the title. The first book that came to mind about this was Peter May’s crime novel The Blackhouse which is the first of three books set in the Outer Hebrides and featuring the same character, Fin Macleod who is a native of the islands but returns after years away to investigate a brutal killing. The Blackhouse is a traditional Hebridean structure.

Peter May is prolific writer of crime novels and some which are more like thrillers. He has set these in China and France as well as Scotland. I have read many of them and I always know that his books will be a good read. None of them, however, are quite as engaging as the books in this trilogy. The next two books are The Lewis Man and The Chess Men.

In this novel Fin Macleod comes to the island which holds dark memories for him just as his marriage is breaking up after he and his wife have experienced the death of a child. He is sad and angry and approaches the island in an aggressive way – he doesn’t want to reconnect with his youth but everything he does reminds him of it.

The book concentrates as much on Fin’s childhood and his feelings about the island as it does on the crime he is supposed to solve but it also spends a lot of time reflecting on the way of life in the Hebrides and the particular traditions and activities of the people. The author really brings to life the landscape and quite a lot of the book is descriptive. I liked this and thought that with the information about Fin’s childhood which is revealed slowly that I got a good picture of what it might be like to live there but it does mean that this book is far more than just a crime novel and perhaps slower paced than some people would like.

The three books, as a whole, demonstrate Fin’s journey from where he is at the start of this one to a place where he can cope with his loss and has come to terms with his childhood. It is good to read all three in order but each could be read on its own. Reading this series reminded me of the Shetland books by Anne Cleeves which I review here and they do have a lot in common but Peter May’s book is darker and has a sadder tone. Both series offer high quality crime writing where the landscape and culture of the Scottish islands is important.

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