‘The Lewis Man,’ by Peter May

Beyond the curve of the hill, Fin could see the dark roof of Crobost Church dominating both the skyline and the people over whose lives its shadow fell. Someone had hung out washing at the manse, and white sheets flapped furiously in the wind like demented semaphore flags urging praise and fear of God in equal measures.

Fin loathed the church and all it stood for. But there was comfort in its familiarity. This, after all, was home. And he felt his spirits lifted.

I gave the first volume of Peter May’s Lewis trilogy, The Blackhouse, a mixed review the other day (see below). I thought the writing superior, but the main character inadequate. Fin Macleod, the hero, seemed to me a little passive and emo (too much like me, frankly) to be a mystery detective. But the setting in the Outer Hebrides was fascinating and seductive, and I bought the second book, The Lewis Man. I’m glad I did. I consider this one considerably better, and the first wasn’t all that bad.

Fin Macleod is back in his childhood home at the northern tip of the island of Lewis. His career as an Edinburgh detective is over, as is his marriage. He’s at loose ends, still mourning the death of his young son, but now he has living connections on Lewis, including Marsaili, the woman he was in love with as a boy.

Though he lacks an official police position, Fin is asked by his friend George Gunn, local cop, to come and assist when a body is found buried in a peat bog. At first they think it’s one of those famous prehistoric bog burials, sacrificial victims perfectly preserved in the acidic peat, that show up in northern Europe from time to time. But this victim has an Elvis Presley tattoo on one arm, which makes the death a modern murder.

The investigation uncovers a tangle of old secrets involving the treatment of orphans and organized crime. And it soon becomes clear that Marsaili’s father, now sinking into dementia, is not the person he claims to be. DNA evidence shows him to be a close relative of the murder victim. Is the gentle old man a killer?

I liked Fin Macleod much better this time around – he acted more like a detective, even off the payroll. And the writing was once again exceptional – especially the descriptions of Hebrides scenery and weather. The ending was perhaps a tad contrived, but it was also satisfying and emotionally touching.

Recommended. Cautions, mostly, for language.

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