Written by Peter May — 2013 ended with me choosing my top five books of the year, and among them was The Chessmen by Peter May, which concluded his Lewis Trilogy. The New Year arrives with a new stand alone novel by the same author, and I think I may already have one of my favourite books of 2014.
Between them, the three books in the Lewis Trilogy have sold more than a million copies in the UK alone, and they’ve garnered legions of fans who adore the author’s unique style. His delectable descriptive narrative places the reader slap bang in the story’s landscape, feeling the wind in your hair and scenting the myriad countryside smells.
It worked for the Outer Hebrides, and now May has set his sights further afield – in particular the Gulf of St Lawrence, in Eastern Canada. A murder has been committed for the first time in living memory on Entry Island, an English-speaking enclave among the generally francophone Magdalen Islands. Which is where Sime Mackenzie comes in. A Detective Sergeant with the Surete in Montreal, Sime is a fluent English speaker – an asset when it comes to interviewing the Entry Island inhabitants.
Sime is something of a loner, an insomniac whose every waking hour is filled with loneliness and bitter regret, so he is happy to travel the 850 miles from Montreal to offer his skills. At first glance, the case looks pretty clear-cut. The victim is the island’s wealthiest man, James Cowell, who has been stabbed to death. And his widow, Kirsty, was found beside the body, covered in his blood. She maintains that she interrupted an intruder who fled the scene, although there is no evidence of a third person at the crime scene – and no sign of the murder weapon either.
The more Sime interviews Kirsty, the less inclined is he to believe that she is guilty. His conviction of her innocence is not shared by other members of the investigating team – and the issue is complicated by Sime’s strange feeling that he has met the widow before. As sleep still eludes him, he is plagued by fleeting dreams which play out snippets of long forgotten stories told to Sime and his sister by their grandmother when they were young; tales taken from diaries kept by the ancestor Sime was called after, a young man who left his home on the Isle of Lewis and Harris in the aftermath of the Highland Clearances and eventually made a new life for himself in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Sime was a lowly crofter’s son, who fell in love with Kirsty, the daughter of the local landowner, but a cruel twist of fate meant the pair were separated and never met again after Sime left his homeland.
The two strands entwine in a storyline produced by a veritable master weaver of tales. Love and hate, mistrust and despair, injustice and misdirection all feature in a novel that will keep you hooked from start to finish. I confess that I didn’t want this book to end, so great was my enjoyment. Best of all, in Entry Island there are two landscapes for May to paint for his readers. There were times when I had to stop and marvel at the sheer power of his descriptions. I’m in awe of the way he conjures up the complete sense of place in a few well chosen words and phrases.
Read our interview with Peter May here.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars