Monday, June 11, 2012

Review of The Black House by Peter May (Quercus, 2011)

Detective Inspector Fin Macleod grew up in a remote village on the Isle of Lewis, escaping the cloying, conservative society to Glasgow University when he was 18.  Within a year he had dropped out and joined the police.  Seventeen years later and his life is in a rut.  His marriage is on the rocks and his eight year old son has recently been killed in a hit and run incident.  On the verge of leaving the police he is sent back to Lewis to help in the murder investigation of one of his former class mates, killed in the same way as a victim in one of his open cases in Edinburgh.  Neither Macleod or the DCI in charge of the case wants him there.  As MacLeod starts to investigate he uncovers old memories and encounters ghosts from his past.  As the case unfolds, it twists in a sinister fashion, Macleod becoming ever more uncomfortable as his past catches up with him. 

The Black House is written in expressive prose that’s very easy on the eye.  The sense of place, the characterization, and the close community relations are very well done, placing the reader into the landscape and society of Lewis.  The telling alternates between the present, told in the third person, and flash backs to Macleod’s childhood, told in the present tense.  It’s a plot device that works well, providing vital contextual back story.  Unfortunately, it is also over elaborated and it would have been possible to trim much of it back in length without losing any important material.  Certainly 50 plus pages could be edited from the book without the story suffering in any great way.  The other main issue is the telegraphing of the mystery element of the plot.  By a third of the way through I’d worked out who the killer was and roughly why; I was holding out for a major plot twist, but although a twist did come it was one that confirmed my deduction rather than challenged it.  All in all, a nicely written book that provides an interesting tale with a strong sense of place and community, but is overly long and has a weak plot with respect to the murder investigation though not Macleod’s personal history.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Agree completely with this review.