About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Blackhouse by Peter May

The Blackhouse by Peter May – I finished reading the book this morning and headed to the bookstore to buy the second in the series, The Lewis Man, this afternoon. I have to find out what happened next in the saga of Fionnlagh “Fin” McLeod on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. I have not been as eager to read the second book in a trilogy since I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. 

Despite all the great reviews of The Blackhouse I had hesitated to read the book. I had read Snakehead by May in 2003 and found it an average book. After reading Jose Ignacio Escribano’s very positive review at his fine blog, The Game’s Afoot, I decided I would read the book. When I came across it in the ship's library of Riviera while cruising in September I started reading it. Unable to finish it at that time I bought a copy a few days ago as a Christmas present to myself (please don’t tell my family) and raced through the book amidst the Christmas festivities.

Now it is not a light read for the holiday season. The story of Fin is dark. His life has been beset by tragedy. Many books in which the sleuth’s life is a tale of woe leave me depressed and working to turn the pages but Fin is different. His spirit, battered and bruised by misfortune, often self-induced, perseveres and kept me intrigued.

A police officer in Edinburgh, he returns to Lewis to see if the brutal slaying of Angel Macritchie, found hanging in a boat shed by a pair of teenagers looking for a quiet spot on a Saturday night, is connected to a murder he has investigated in Edinburgh.

Fin knew Angel and his younger brother, Murdo, as the bullies of his youth. Angel, a physically large man, has no defensive wounds. He must have been slain by someone able to get close to him without arousing suspicion.

The investigation takes Fin back to the islanders of his generation who either never left or returned to live on Lewis. Every encounter is taut with recollection. While he has been gone 18 years his memories of life on the isle are vivid.

His first day at school where he was humiliated by only speaking Gaelic was redeemed by Marsaili the pert and pretty little girl (bright blue eyes and ribbons in her pigtailed blonde hair) who tells the teacher she will translate for Fin.

His secure life with loving parents ends suddenly as a young boy when they die in an accident. Fin is stunned:

I spent a lot of time alone in my room, barely aware of the comings and goings downstairs, cars drawing up at the path and then driving off again. I had heard people time and again saying how brave I was, and my aunt telling them how I hadn’t spilled a single tear. But I know now that tears are a kind of acceptance. And I was not ready for that yet.

Their deaths become real when, in a haunting image, he leads the procession of men from the church to the graveyard walking between two lines of women.

Fin realizes life will never be the same when his aunt, the relative who will raise him, tells him after the funeral he will not return home. He will live with her and his bedroom will be a small cold room in the attic.

Fin will struggle with relationships ever after.

On his return to the island, after meeting Artair Macinnes, his best friend as a boy, and Marsaili who have married and their son, Fionnlagh, conflicting emotions surge through Fin.

For the investigation there are many in the community who have suffered at the hands of Angel but there is no one with an immediate motive.

Angel does have respect for being the cook for 18 years on the annual village expedition to An Segir to kill 2,000 guga birds. They are a local delicacy.

Fin was one of the 12 villagers who went to An Segir when he was a teenager. What happened on An Segir that August fortnight still affects all who went there.

May skilfully uses the weather and geography of Lewis as part of the story. I do not believe you can effectively set a book in any rural setting around the world without including the land.

As with many rural landscapes the Isle of Lewis is equally bleak and beautiful. Coming from a province where it is rarely calm I can appreciate the constant presence of the wind blowing across the island. Rarely does it caress Lewis. Most days it cuts the islanders.

Angel was not a man whose passing Fin mourned but he will find his killer. On the journey he finds depths in the islanders, including Angel, he thought he knew so well in his youth that he had never known.


  1. Very nice review BIll, I'm glad you enjoyed the bookl and thank you very much for your comment.

    1. Jose Ignacio: Thanks for the comment. I appreciate getting to know you through blogging.

  2. I'm very glad you enjoyed this one, Bill. I think Peter May is very talented and this series evokes life on the Hebrides quite effectively. Looking forward to your thoughts on the next in the series.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. After reading the book I want to visit the Outer Hebrides.

  3. I discovered Peter May in the last year as well, and I can't wait to read the last book in the trilogy. I think the vividness of the setting and the quality of the writing made me not mind the sadness of the plot as much.

  4. RebeccaK: Thanks for the comment. There is precious little joy in the first two books of the trilogy. I agree that May wrote very well and convincingly of the Outer Hebrides.

  5. I need help, I need to figure out all the characters, the settings, conflict and the solution to the book. Can anyone give me some of them.