The Isle of Lewis is the most desolate and harshly beautiful place in Scotland. When a bloody murder on the island bears the hallmarks of a similar slaying in Edinburgh, police detective Fin Macleod is dispatched north to investigate. Since Fin himself was raised on the island, the investigation represents not only a journey home but a voyage into his past. Each year twelve island men sail out to a remote and treacherous rock called An Sgeir on a perilous quest to slaughter nesting seabirds. No longer necessary for survival, this rite of passage is still fiercely defended.
Peter May's Lewis Trilogy isn't a new undertaking, originally published in 2009, but it's one of those series I've had flagged in my audio book queue for a long time, and recently I've been fortunate enough to have a lot of available listening time and a desire for something that was dark, atmospheric and delivered in my favourite of all accents.
The trilogy is based around policeman and child of Lewis Island, Fin MacLeod. Born and raised on Lewis, he was the boy who left for a university education in Edinburgh. Raised in part by an aunt, his parents having died in a car accident when he was young, there's something more buried in Fin's attitude to the place of his birth. When he's sent back home after a murder on the island that bears a resemblance to one he investigated in Edinburgh, he is instantly drawn back into the small, deeply inter-connected and multi-generational complications that are small community interactions and history.
The island setting feels like the archetypal closed community. Insular, inter-related, and externally private, the closed room type setting is further enhanced by the shared history of the investigator, the victim and the investigated, especially as reminiscences start to fill in their shared past. Alternating chapters of past and present help in following the audio version of this book in particular, and the narrator does an excellent job in varying tone, pace and voice all the way through meaning that you don't lose the thread of who is talking, thinking or reminiscing. And it doesn't hurt at all that the Gaelic contributions are lyrical and absolutely beautiful to listen to.
There's a hefty dose of romantic entanglement in this book as well with just about everybody carrying a sad burden and a hefty dose of love lost, loved ones dead, regret and much longing. After now listening to the first couple of books in the trilogy this is a theme that continues forward and may be a little heavy-handed for some readers (listeners) as you really do find yourself being dragged back down into the personal on a lot of occasions. Given the eventual solution, and motivation for the crime(s) that have occurred in the two books so far, it kind of makes sense that the personal is a strong component, and an incredibly messy one to boot.
Ultimately though, THE BLACKHOUSE was an atmospheric, dark, brooding, overwhelmingly sad story, which worked really well as an audio book. Especially if it's tweaking the same sorts of cultural memory (longing) that it did for this reader.