The Blackhouse by Peter May

The BlackhouseThe Blackhouse

by Peter May
Series: The Lewis Trilogy, #1

Hardcover, 357 pg.
SilverOak Books, 2012

Read: December 18 – 19, 2017


Endinburgh’s DS Fin Macleod returns to work after a month’s bereavement leave and is immediately sent to the Isle of Lewis to aid in a murder investigation. The murder shares some commonalities with a murder he’d been investigating before his leave and Fin grew up in the same town as the murder — in fact, he knew the victim as a child and was bullied by him. Fin has returned to the island once since he left, and that was almost two decades ago — nevertheless he is surrounded by memories and ghosts.

As is so often the case with this kind of story — the returning detective/writer/lawyer/etc. — the narrative is divided between the present and the past. In the present we get Fin and his local contact looking into aspects of the murder, drawing on Fin’s knowledge of the suspects and other persons of interest. The other portion traces Fin’s friendships and lost loves on the island, his problematic relationship to the island’s culture, and some of the trauma of his life. In the end, as every reader knows, the past illuminates the present and Fin’s able to solve the mystery — at great cost to himself.

May structured this wonderfully, the prose is gripping, the characters well-developed and believable — you can feel the harsh environment, the cold, the isolation.

But . . . I just didn’t like it. I can’t point to anything in particular that put me off, I just didn’t click with it. I didn’t dislike it either, I should say.

Strong writing, a great sense of setting, a story well told — I can see why so many readers appreciated it, and figure many of my readers will, too. But it just didn’t do enough for me. I’ll give it 3 1/2 stars on the strength of May’s skill alone.

—–

3.5 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

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A Matter of Perspective

A couple of weeks ago, I read Between Wittenberg and Geneva: Lutheran and Reformed Theology in Conversation by Robert Kolb and Carl R. Trueman. In his discussion of Reformed worship, Carl Trueman wrote:
Nevertheless, there is a sense in which beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The Reformed worship service with its simple aesthetics focused on the basic elements of prayer, preaching, singing, and sacraments has an austere beauty of its own, as anyone who has ever attended, for example, a traditional service of worship in a Presbyterian congregation on Scotland’s Outer Hebrides will affirm. The unadorned human voice and the air of tranquil and reverent piety possess their own peculiar and often powerful beauty. Simplicity has its own aesthetic and can indeed have its own unadorned beauty.
I couldn’t help thinking of that passage yesterday when I read the following passage from Peter May’s The Blackhouse:
No colourful stained glass in this austere Calvinistic culture. No imagery. No crosses. No joy.

. . . A cheerless place, with worn floorboards and dark, varnished wood. It smelled of dust and damp clothes and time. . . .

Fin traced his childhood footsteps through the left-hand door and into the church itself, rows of unforgiving wooden pews flanking two aisles leading to the raised and railed area at the far end, from which sombre elders would lead the psalm-singing. . . .

In his head, Fin could almost hear the singing of the Gaelic psalms. A strange, unaccompanied tribal chanting that could seem chaotic to the untrained ear. But there was something wonderfully affecting about it. Something of the land and the landscape, of the struggle for existence against overwhelming odds. Something of the people amongst whom he had grown up. Good people, most of them, finding something unique in themselves, in the way they sang their praise to the Lord, an expression of gratitude for hard lives in which they had found meaning.

Different perspectives on Scottish Presbyterianism, to be sure — written with different aims, in very different kinds of books, but if you look hard enough, you can see them describing the same thing. It was a little striking running into those so close together.