This article has been written with the support of CalMac.
- Robin Hodge
- 27 March 2019
Delving into Peter May's compelling series of novels that get to the heart of contemporary life in the Hebrides
It has been speculated that there are more literary murders in Scotland per year than actual ones. Nowhere is this more evident than on the Isle of Lewis, where various gruesome homicides take place in Peter May's gripping trilogy of The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen.
Although the author is an outsider, he spent many years on the island and has an impressive ability to convey the complex strands of history, religion, drink, conflict, landscape, climate and family that shape the lives of those who live there. Life is generally hard, unrelenting and unforgiving, but there is a spirit of place that permeates the soul creating ties that can be stretched but never broken.
The three books (first published between 2011 and 2014) each start with a murder before moving forwards and backwards in time to unravel the secrets of three generations of characters. The story is anchored around a police detective sent back to the island to investigate the opening murder. May's dialogue convincingly captures the island lilt while the people and landscapes are lovingly described, drawing you into the community as his plots develop.
May weaves powerful accounts of various real aspects of life on the island into the books. These include the legacy of 1919's terrible tragedy when over 200 local men who had survived the Great War drowned when the Iolaire sunk. This horror occurred within sight of their loved ones. May also writes about the annual Sula Sgeir guga (gannet chicks) hunt, undertaken by locals from Ness who scramble over precipitous rocks. This is Scotland's only surviving example of the traditional hunt.
The storytelling is brilliantly crafted and, once you start, you will soon feel compelled to read all three books, or inspired to visit and experience the island for yourself.
Peter May's Lewis Trilogy is available on Amazon.