Peter May’s novel The Blackhouse begins like so many other crime novels that have come before; with a murder. A gruesome and brutal act, committed by an unknown person. Unlike other crime novels though this murder isn’t committed down some back street alley in a thriving metropolis. The Blackhouse‘s murder is committed way out on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, a remote land where the difficulty of life is only out-weighed by the people’s fear of God.
After the opening prologue where the murder is committed, readers of crime novels are then thrust back into familiar territory. We meet the novel’s protagonist Fin Macleod, and like so many cliché crime novel detectives he is a man with a troubled past and to keep the clichés coming, a man dealing with a tragic present, who through a twist of fate is sent back to the Isle of Lewis, where he lived as a child. Sent back, not to aid with the investigation, but to simply either rule out, or confirm whether the murder on Lewis is connected, as fate would have it, to a case he is working on in Edinburgh.
However, it is when we as readers are taken to the Isle of Lewis that Peter May takes what at first glance is just another crime novel and transforms it into something else; something which I wasn’t expecting.
When Fin Macleod returns home, he, like so many people who return to their homelands after an absence, is forced to face up to some of the ghosts of his past. And it is while we as readers are taken on a journey through Fin’s early years that the novel comes alive and morphs into something more than just your average crime thriller.
Peter May, takes The Blackhouse and shifts it from being a crime thriller into a fascinating look at Fin Macleod’s younger years on the Isle of Lewis as Fin tries to exorcise some of the ghosts from his past. Of course there are some people who may want more crime, and creepy killers from their crime novels, but I loved the way Peter May structured this novel. He kept me turning pages by shifting the novel’s focus between the hunt for a killer and the story of Fin’s days on a remote island before connecting it all together in a thrilling, and unpredictable conclusion.