AWC Winner Book Review 2012-13


Peter May
The Lewis Man (The Lewis Trilogy)
Quercus 2012
ISBN 978 0 85738 220 7
£12.99 Hb 443pp


A body is found, buried in a peat bog where it was hoped nobody would ever find it. A young man brutally murdered. DNA testing provides a clue to the victim’s identity. And with this, a suspect is established. But the suspect is an old man, a family man now firmly in the grip of dementia. An ex-cop with personal baggage gets involved in the investigation. Typical crime thriller, you may think. But think again. Peter May’s The Lewis Man is far from conventional. Crime fiction it may be, but it’s also a story of love, landscape, humanity, family, religion and history.

The second in The Lewis Trilogy, The Lewis Man follows on brilliantly from The Blackhouse (2010), with Fin Macleod once again its leading character. After the tragic death of his young son, Fin hands in his police badge, divorces his wife and returns home – “There was nowhere else to go, except back to the womb…” – to the island of Lewis, to try to rebuild his life, along with the derelict croft house where his parents lived. He meets once again his childhood love, Marsaili, single following the death in The Blackhouse of her bullying husband, and bringing up Fionnlagh, the teenage son only Fin and Marsaili know is theirs. The old man, Tormod, whose DNA is a match with that of the body in the bog, is Marsaili’s father, and it’s that link, along with a cop’s nose for an investigation, that gets Fin involved.

The story is told, with exquisite handling, from the point of view of Fin and Marsaili and from that of Tormod, whose dementia means he has little connection with the present but a mind in which the past plays in tragic detail. He remembers a childhood of institutionalised and accepted torture in a children’s home, “… a dismal place where the darkest side of human nature cast its shadow on us”, and a life in which promises made in love have to be kept and injustices corrected.

May’s delineation of landscape and character and of a certain kind of life is captivating. Once you’re there, you can’t leave until it’s over. You become part of the desolate beauty and honesty of the landscape, the ferocity of the weather beating in from the Atlantic with a rhythm that defines lives. It is a “narrow neck of the world” where “… sunlight flitted in and out of a sky grated by the wind, chaotic random patches of it chasing each other across the machair where headstones planted in the soft, sandy soil marked the passing of generations.” You shiver in the storms that batter the rocky coast, feel the sodden ground through your socks.

Fin is a remarkable character, standing up to his task and living out his quest for something elemental in himself, and we know that, just as much as is the body in the bog, Fin is also The Lewis Man, stained by Lewis life just as the body is stained brown by the peaty soil.

The handling of Tormod’s view through his dementia-addled mind goes quite beyond sympathy to an honest and fearless appraisal of this condition, one that lays memory bare and strips dignity. Anybody who has known somebody with dementia knows that May is absolutely right.

And when it is finally over, you miss it. This is one I read in one sitting, unable to put it down, one that I was still reading in my mind days later. I look forward to receiving my pre-order for the third in the trilogy, The Chess Men, out in January 2013.

By Alison Craig

AWC 2012-13/Book Review Winner/The Lewis Man/Harris

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