Monday, July 7, 2014

The Blackhouse by Peter May

I’ve never read anything by Scottish author Peter May. I was browsing for books to take on an upcoming trip and came across Blackhouse

I spent two weeks in the Hebridean Islands off the coast of Scotland twenty years ago and loved the book’s setting on Lewis. The author writes great descriptions of the landscape and the people. His writing is very evocative and really put me in the location.

A key part of the plot is the annual harvesting of young gannets, or guga, a local delicacy. It made me cringe to read the descriptions of the parent birds screaming as their young are taken from their nests and killed. Apparently this is a real thing, and the author clearly did his research. The number of birds taken is carefully monitored so the population of gannets is not negatively affected.

I enjoyed the information about the Lewis Chessmen, chess pieces from the 12th century carved from walrus ivory and whale teeth that were discovered on the Isle of Lewis in the 1800s.  There are many Gaelic words and names in the narrative, and I very much appreciated the pronunciation guide at the start of the book, referring to it numerous times.

The character development is also rich. This book is not really about the mystery; it is more of a coming-of-age story than anything else, with the back stories of the characters spun out a little bit at a time. Secrets and lies are dangled in front of the reader and slowly explained. I was totally pulled in to the story. It kept me engrossed through a long and difficult travel day involving a missed flight and lots of waiting.

Much of what happens in the climax is hard to believe, and the last line of the book is incredibly lame, but the author sold his tale to me in such a way that I didn’t mind too much. I recommend Blackhouse to lovers of British crime novels, to people who like to travel vicariously, and to readers who like strong character development. I will definitely be reading books two and three in the series.

The Blackhouse can be found at the Galesburg Public Library in the Fiction section under MAY.

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