I was surprised by The Blackhouse. When I first started reading it felt more like a horror novel than anything else, but slowly it morphed into a police procedural, though one of a rather different kind.
A brutal killing on the isle of Lewis, north of Scotland brings Edinboro detective Fin Macleod to the Outer Hebrides to investigate. He was raised on the beautiful and desolate island and as he starts to investigate the crime he also travels back into his turbulent past.
One of the best things about the novel is Mr. May’s knowledge and feel for the island, its customs, traditions and climate. His characters, particularly Marsaili and Artair and Donald, are solid, and the details of their lives are finely drawn. It’s obvious the Mr. May knows these islands, and sees them clearly; they aren’t paradise, and they aren’t hell, but rather a particular unique piece of the planet.
The book uncovers Fin’s past in alternating chapters as he slowly discovers the crime, and of course the two are closely entwined. The tension was slow and simmering, and as the novel unwinds Fin’s past becomes more and more enthralling. The biggest problem that I had with the book that except for a few brief moments this book was exceptionally bleak. It was almost always interesting, but several times I had to pause to shake away the cobwebs. The crime, while fascinating, is not really that much of a surprise, and makes that parts of the book that deal with that somewhat less than satisfying. Fin’s current life also seems like little more than a back-drop for when he gets to the island, and although the details are as sad as any in the book, they feel oddly muted, as if they took place off-stage, and that they are nothing more than background.
The island itself is perhaps the most interesting character in the story. It would seem that Mr. May is going to write other books set there, and since this book was a good solid thriller I look forward to reading the next one.