Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Review: The Lewis Man by Peter May

Publisher: Quercus Books
Rating: 5*

Mysteries and Crime ThrillersPeter May's THE LEWIS MAN is the second book in the Lewis Island Trilogy set on the islands of Lewis and Harris, the largest in an archipelago of islands off the west coast of Scotland.  The islands are made up of beautiful hilly terrain, machair (fertile grassy plains), and bogs and they stand proud, weathering the harsh north-sea winds and deep cold winters. The islanders are hardworking people and they make a living out of harvesting peat from the bogs.  On one such day of hard work, the people digging in the bogs find a human body.  It is initially thought to be thousands of years old because peat preserves bodies from decay, but when a modern tattoo is discovered on the arm, the police realise they have a murder investigation on their hands.  DNA links the corpse to an old man, Tormod Macdonald, but Tormod, now suffering from dementia, is believed to have been an only child with no known relatives.

Fin Macleod, recently retired from the Lothian & Borders CID, following the death of his son Robbie in a hit-and-run accident and his subsequent divorce, has returned to his native island and his parents’ ruined croft. He involves himself in the investigation because Tormod’s daughter, Marsaili, was his first love, and he is indeed, as we soon guess, the father of her son, Fionnlagh.

And so we set on a long path of discovery into the past, following Fin Macleod in his investigation, with flashes of viewpoint into the childhood memories of Tormod in interspersed chapters.  We learn of the dark history of the island's past in which Tormod and two other children cling together as orphans and support and carry each other through dark times.  There are many touching scenes as they find love and courage to face the harshness of society around them.  Tormod loves the islands and the seas and he hates the modern double glazing that now locks him away from the sounds of the winds and the seas that make him feel alive.

It is only nominally a crime novel in that the discovery of the body in the peat bogs sets the story going.  It is more a beautifully written ode and a homage to these beautiful islands and the proud, hardy people who live on them.  The language is atmospheric and nostalgic, weaving the islands' landscapes and the characters' lives together into an inseparably infused whole.  Even when the islanders leave the island, they carry it as a part of themselves as Fin does, and it calls them back.  The islanders understand each other instinctively in a way outsiders cannot and it is a place of healing for Fin who finds comfort from the tragedy of his son's death and a deeper love with Marsaili and his long lost son by her.

There is a rare glimpse of humour in naming the book Lewis Man, but the characters we come to love suffer terribly through their lives and the book is full of pathos.  It is only in the end that they find well deserved happiness and joy.

Follow this link to learn more of the islands and the books. (Note you have to scroll down and turn the 3 Scottish and BBC radio broadcasts that play simultaneously off first.)

Below, Lewis island landscapes.

Bookstore Links:  |  |  B&N  |  Waterstones  |  WH Smith

Reviewed for MCT by Jac Wright.

Mysteries and Crime Thrillers Suspense

Mysteries and Crime Thrillers Suspense

Mysteries and Crime Thrillers Suspense
A restored croft village.


  1. Very nicely written review Jac. Sounds like an interesting book. Jan.

    1. Thanks, Jan. Peter May writes beautifully. They are reads to be savoured.