The second installment in May’s Lewis trilogy finds Fin Macleod (The Blackhouse, 2011) without a job or wife but with another brooding case set on the outermost island of the Outer Hebrides.
Even before his slide into dementia placed him beyond the reach of any official interrogation, Tormod Macdonald had assured his daughter, Marsaili, that he was an only child. So how can it be that DNA tests on the anonymous corpse recovered from a peat bog mark the dead man as a relative of Tormod’s? The police aren’t interested in a 50-year-old killing, but Marsaili can’t help wanting to know more about this unknown connection of her father’s. And since Fin, her years-ago lover, has just quit both his marriage and the police force and camped out on Lewis Island to make his long-dead parents’ cottage habitable once more, he’s on hand to make inquiries. Braided into the tale of his discoveries is a series of flashbacks to the events leading up to the murder. This back-and-forth rhythm is one of the most durable and frequently irritating clichés of the genre, but May (Blowback, 2011, etc.) miraculously freshens it by recounting the past from Macdonald’s point of view. Giving a voice to the demented figure at the center of the mystery accelerates the gradual pace of the revelations, gives Macdonald’s unwilling, and largely unwitting, return to his early days a powerful poignancy, and allows him from time to time to leap ahead of the trained investigator working the same dark field.
Despite some well-judged surprises, the mystery isn’t all that mysterious. But you’ll keep turning the pages anyway—not to learn whodunit, but to find out what’s going to happen to the present-day characters so deeply, fatally rooted in the past.