A man washes ashore in the Outer Hebrides, the pages of his memory completely blank, while in Edinburgh a troubled teen suspects her father did not, as she was told, commit suicide.
The author of a trilogy and two series, May scores here with a standout stand-alone. At its core is an eminently satisfying, multilayered mystery populated with sharply drawn characters. In an immediately engaging opening scene, a man struggles to his feet on a beach on the Isle of Harris. Shivering, confused, and disoriented, he cannot recall how he landed here. Worse, he does not know who he is, though islanders recognize him. Guided, then settled into a cottage he scarcely recognizes, he eventually reunites with Sally, a woman who recalls, and resumes, their affair. Attempting to help him recover, she walks with him up the eponymous Coffin Road, where, in a hollow, they discover several beehives. Curiously, the narrator’s hands bear evidence of bee stings. Sally also prompts the narrator, who comes to think his name is Neal, that he was writing a book about the mysterious disappearance a hundred years ago on a nearby island of three men. To jog his memory, Neal journeys to the island only to discover a corpse with its head split open. Neal fears he was the killer, and police soon think likewise. Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, the narrative follows Karen, who, in the two years following her father’s suicide, has gone “from being Daddy’s little girl to Mother’s nightmare.” Investigating her father’s suicide, Karen comes to believe he did not kill himself—that he is indeed alive. That conviction sends her into the Highlands, where she faces her own peril. The many threads of the story play out against a landscape that May, a native Scot, renders vividly. His images capture the capricious play of light and weather across the sea and the moors, matching the surprises in his tale.
A thoroughly entertaining yarn.