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The Big Coffin Road Blog Read Part Six: To the Lighthouse & A Giveaway!

Coffin Road book jacket


The harbour at Rodel is deserted as I drive down from the church and park in front of the hotel. There are a couple of other vehicles there, but not a soul in sight. I have no idea where Coinneach lives, and wander along the quay to the boat I saw him climb out of yesterday. It is a Sea Ray 250 Sundancer powerboat with a 454 Magnum Alpha One engine. I seem to know every little detail about it, although I am not sure how. It is a sleek beast, white with purple trim, and a plastic cowling that can be mounted to shelter the driver in bad weather. Though it would not, I know, last long in the winds it would encounter around these coasts. This is a fair-weather boat.


I am turning away when I hear my name called, and I swing back to see Coinneach emerging from below, climbing the couple of steps to the left of the driver’s seat, and straightening himself with palms pressed into his lower back. ‘On your own today?’ he says.




‘So what brings you back to Rodel when your boat’s up at Uig?’ And something about the way he says this makes me think that he didn’t believe a word of Sally’s story yesterday.


‘I was wondering if I could borrow yours.’


He laughs, and his amusement seems genuine enough. ‘I’m not in business for the good of your health, Neal. But I’ll rent you one. Where are you going?’


‘The Flannan Isles.’


He frowns and looks up at the sky. ‘Well . . . it’s fair enough now, alright, but the forecast’s for squalls moving up from the south-west. You’ll maybe not get landed.’


‘I’ll take my chances.’


‘You’ll not be taking any chances with my boat, man. If the swell’s too big, don’t even try it. You’d best take the inflatable with you.’


I nod.


He gives me a strange look. ‘What the hell is it you find to do out there on these trips, anyway?’


I wonder if he has asked me this before, and what I might have said if he has. All I say is, ‘I like the solitude.’


‘And what about your book?’


So I have told him that lie, too. ‘What about it?’


‘Well, you must have gathered enough material for it by now, surely?’


‘It’s almost finished, Coinneach. I just need a few more photographs.’


He cocks an eyebrow. ‘Not the best day for it today.’ Then shrugs. ‘But that’s your business, not mine. Come up to the hotel and we’ll get the paperwork sorted, and you can be on your way before the bad stuff comes in.’


I see the islands, and the lighthouse, from some way off, and glancing back I can see the dark silhouette of the Outer Hebrides stretched out along the eastern horizon. The sea has been kind to me thus far, with a medium swell and light winds. I have studied Coinneach’s charts, and although I have no recollection of having ever set eyes on them, they seem comfortingly familiar.


There is a sense, in all this water around me, of homecoming. I am fully at ease with it. And it instils in me a sense of confidence.


Approaching from the south-west, I throttle back and cruise slowly between Gealtaire Beag and the larger Eilean Tighe. Once round the headland, I bear west and see the extraordinary twin arches that rise out of the sea between the two Làmh a’ Sgeires, Bheag and Mhor. Natural black rock stacks sculpted by nature and capped white with gannets, the air above them thick with wheeling seabirds, guillemots and shags, whose plaintive cries fill the air.


For the last mile or so, dolphins have followed me, breaking the surface of the water in playful arcs, circling the boat again and again. But they have gone now, and stretched out ahead is Eilean Mòr itself, lying deceptively low in the water. From a high point at its west side it dips towards a flat central area, before rising once more to a small summit in the east. The lighthouse sits on a central peak, which is the highest point on the island, rising it seems out of nowhere. But even as I approach it, the illusion of the island lying low is dispelled. Cliffs lift sheer out of the swell, rock laid in layers, one upon the other, and shot through with seams of pink gneiss.


Since the swell is coming from the south-west, I head for the more sheltered eastern landing, anchoring as close to shore as I dare. I lower the inflatable I have strapped to the stern of the boat, clamber carefully into it and pull the starter cord to kick the outboard into life.


I ride the swell into the jetty and see immediately that it has not been maintained in years, eroded and broken by time and the constant assault of the ocean. Concrete steps, encrusted with shells, vanish into dark green water, white breaking all around them on the rising tide. I nudge the inflatable slowly towards them, before turning side-on and cutting the motor, then leaping, rope in hand, on to the lower steps, hoping that my feet will find a grip. With difficulty I drag the tender the ten feet up to the broken concrete pier and secure it to a rusted iron ring set into the rock.


A hundred and fifty feet or more above me is the platform where the crane once stood, lifting loads from countless supply boats through wind and spray, to swing them on to an upper platform where a cable-drawn tram would haul them the rest of the way to the lighthouse itself.


The steps on which I have landed climb steeply up the side of the cliff before doubling back, still rising, to the concrete landing block where the crane would deposit the incoming supplies. On the sea side are the rusted stumps of what must once have been safety rails, long since torn away by the destructive power and fury of the Atlantic. It is a hell of a climb, puffins huddled in cracks and crevices, gannets and guillemots circling close to my head as if warning me to stay away, and as I near the top I feel the wind stiffening. Looking back across the water I have just covered, foaming in rings around the six other pinnacles of land that make up the Seven Hunters, I see the ocean rising and realise that I cannot stay too long.


I turn to find myself watched by a group of seabirds perched on a rock, huddled in hooded wariness. Large birds. Three of them, like the ghosts of the lost lighthouse men imagined in Wilfrid Wilson Gibson’s poem.


We saw three queer, black, ugly birds—

Too big, by far, in my belief,

For guillemot or shag—

Like seamen sitting bold upright

Upon a half-tide reef:

But, as we near’d, they plunged from sight,

Without a sound, or spurt of white.


Spooked, I crouch to pick up a rock and hurl it at them. With huge wings outspread, flapping in slow motion against the wind, they rise, startled, into the air, wheeling away beyond the cliff and out of sight. I cannot explain why, but their presence creates in my mind a sense of foreboding, and I turn quickly to make the final ascent to the lighthouse.


The tram tracks are still visible in the concrete path, but the rails are long gone, and weeds and grass poke through the cracks. The climb leaves me breathless. Off to my right I see the helipad that was marked on the Historical Monuments map, and the chapel, such as it is. In fact little more than a crude stone bothy. A scaffolding erected along the south side of the complex supports thirty-six solar panels, answering the question I had in my mind of how the lighthouse was powered, if unmanned. The buildings are a freshly painted white, with doors and windows trimmed in ochre. The light room at the top of the tower is an impressive structure of steel, with glass prisms and a conical black roof. The whole is surrounded by a tall stone wall, cemented and topped with concrete copings.


The path leads through gateposts where some kind of gates must once have hung but are long gone. A weathered, cream-painted grille is closed over a green door. Both are locked. To either side of the path, within the walls, the ground is covered with thin, peaty soil and rubble. I have no idea what memory prompts me, but without hesitation I stoop to lift a large flat stone set in the peat, revealing two keys on a ring inside a clear plastic bag. I stare at them for several long seconds, wondering how I knew they were there, or even if it was me who had placed them beneath the stone. Carefully, I remove the keys and drop the stone back in place, then compare the keys in my hand with the locks on the grille and door. I get it right first time, unlocking both, and with an odd sense of excitement push the door open into darkness.


I am following now in the footsteps of Joseph Moore, who was the first man off the Hesperus to find the lighthouse empty and the keepers gone. I must have done it before, perhaps many times, but this time feels like the first, and I am burdened, somehow, by a sense of history.


I turn on the light switch on the wall to my right. The door to the kitchen lies open, just as it did when Moore came in. What were once bedrooms are mostly empty now, daylight flooding in through unshuttered windows. At the end of the hall, there is still a table and chairs in the room where a succession of keepers must once have shared their time, and where Gibson had conjured the image of an unfinished meal and an overturned seat. It is not limewash and tar that I smell in here, just cold and damp, and something faintly unpleasant, like the distant reek of death.


Back in the hall, I see the row of coat hooks where oilskins and waterproofs must once have hung, including those of the unfortunate Donald McArthur who, for some inexplicable reason, had left the shelter of the lighthouse without them. And I can recall, almost word for word, the superintendent’s account of conditions inside the lighthouse when the relief crew arrived, nearly eleven days after the light had been reported out by the captain of the Archtor on 15 December 1900.


The lamp was crimmed, the oil fountains and canteens were filled up and the lens and machinery cleaned, which proved that the work of the 15th had been completed. The pots and pans had been cleaned and the kitchen tidied up, which showed that the man who had been acting as cook had completed his work, which goes to prove that the men disappeared on the afternoon that Captain Holman had passed the Flannan Islands in the steamer ARCHTOR at midnight on the 15th, and could not observe the light.


There were echoes of the Marie Celeste about it all. What, really, had happened to those men? Could they truly have been carried off by some freak wave during a storm? A wave that must have crashed nearly 150 feet high against the cliffs, reaching almost to where the crane emplacement itself was set into the rock.


I climb the stairs that spiral up the inside of the tower, leading to a circular wood-panelled room. Above my head is the grille into which the lamp is set, providing a floor for maintenance and cleaning. I negotiate the last few rungs of an iron ladder that takes me up to the light room itself. And what an extraordinary space it is. Glass prisms acting as lenses, providing an unrestricted view of the Flannan Isles and the ocean beyond, through 360 degrees. The glass is misted, caked by salt carried on the wind and sparkling like frost. I hear the roar of the elements outside, and see white tops breaking all the way to the horizon. I can see, through the grille beneath my feet, down into the room below. The lamp itself is twice my height, spherical, comprising glass fins on its exterior to

reflect the light, and set to revolve on a complex electrical mechanism set into the floor. To stand here, in the dark, with the lamp turning, would be blinding.


I stay there for some time gazing out at the world, feeling unsettled, insecure. Why had I come out here all those times? Where did I get the keys? And I realise that not only do I have no memories that pre-date the day before yesterday, I still have no idea what kind of man I was. Sally had said she loved me, but she also said that I had changed. Had I really? I had hidden so much from her, that the me she thought she knew had not been the real me at all, just a figment of my own invention. A liar. A deceiver.


The Big Coffin Road Blog Read continues on Crime Thriller Girl on Wednesday 20th January with Part Seven: The Body

Coffin Road by Peter May is out now in hardback (Quercus). You can buy your copy here

If you’ve been following this wonderful blog tour and like what you’ve read so far and really would like a copy of Coffin Road I have a Giveaway! To win the book given by Quercus, all you have to do is leave me a comment below and some way of contacting you, for those who don’t have a blog, so that I can track you down! The winner will be drawn using a random number generator on Sunday 24 January 2016 at 5 pm GMT.

Want to know more about Coffin Road? You can read my review here

Peter May pendant le salon Polars du Sud à Toulouse en 2013
Peter May pendant le salon Polars du Sud à Toulouse en 2013





Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Coffin Road – Peter May


Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction

A man is washed up on a cold day, face down on the beach on the Isle of Harris, one of the islands in the Outer Hebrides. As he tastes the sea in his mouth notes the scratchiness of the sand he realises that he doesn’t know who he is! And so starts the latest of Peter May’s novels, this one returning to the Scottish Isles. At first I thought it was going to be more similar to the Lewis Trilogy than was actually the case as it turns out the man in the sea was writing a novel about three missing lighthouse keepers back at the turn of the twentieth century. Three men who disappeared without a trace leaving the light to go out in the lighthouse with no clue to where they went. But the mystery central to this book is in the far more recent past than that tale.

In all we are told the story from the viewpoint of the man who has been renting a cottage on the Isle of Harris, Neal Maclean. From talking to his neighbours he learns that he has been making frequent trips back and forth to the Flannan Isles where the lighthouse stands, but there is no substance to his manuscript, just chapter headings. He takes a boat over to visit following his amnesia setting in to try and jog his memory but instead he finds something that is far more unwelcome.

Meanwhile, or maybe before or after as no timelines are given, a rebellious teenager in Edinburgh is struggling to come to terms with her mother’s new lover following her husband’s suicide two years before. Karen Fleming is losing her way and following an angry exchange of words with her mother decides to find out more about her father so pays her godfather a visit and starts a trail of discovery into the man, his life, his work and his death.
DS George Gunn is stationed on the Isle of Lewis when a shout comes in about a dead body on one of the smaller islands and he sets off with his partner to investigate but there is a problem, he has no idea who the dead man is let alone a motive for his murder.

Peter May a master storyteller, the tension is maintained in a variety of ways, not least the unreliability of two of the narrators, whether intentional or not. The secondary characters are no less dodgy in their reporting to the main characters and I began to feel a little like Neal Maclean at times, unsure whether up was down or vice versus. However the clues are there if you can spot them! This book also gives a bit of a lecture from the mouth of Chris, Karen’s godfather into the ecosystem and the role of the big agrochem companies in maintaining the right balance. Normally a preachy book, on any subject brings me out of the storyline in annoyance but this information was given at the right level and was relevant at the time of the discussion, which meant that it was interesting and melded into the plot seamlessly.

As always Peter May’s love of the Outer Hebrides shines through, the descriptions of the place were exceptionally evocative and I was instantly able to visualise the island including The Coffin Road where the island’s dead used to be carried in years gone by.

A satisfying and interesting read with interesting but because of the very nature of the tale, nebulous characters this is not a book to miss for those who want something a little bit more thoughtful than the run of the mill crime fiction novel.

Coffin Road
will be published on 14 January 2016 by Quercus. I was lucky enough to receive a copy via Midas PR and if you visit next week I have a special post and a copy of this book for one lucky winner!

Posted in Weekly Posts

This Week in Books (January 6)

This Week In Books

Hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I am reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words

So I’ve finally started one of my most anticipated reads for early 2016; Coffin Road by Peter May, with a story set in The Outer Hebrides.

Coffin Road


A man is washed up on a deserted beach on the Hebridean Isle of Harris, barely alive and borderline hypothermic. He has no idea who he is or how he got there. The only clue to his identity is a map tracing a track called the Coffin Road. He does not know where it will lead him, but filled with dread, fear and uncertainty he knows he must follow it.
A detective crosses rough Atlantic seas to a remote rock twenty miles west of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. With a sense of foreboding he steps ashore where three lighthouse keepers disappeared more than a century before – a mystery that remains unsolved. But now there is a new mystery – a man found bludgeoned to death on that same rock, and DS George Gunn must find out who did it and why.
A teenage girl lies in her Edinburgh bedroom, desperate to discover the truth about her father’s death. Two years after the discovery of the pioneering scientist’s suicide note, Karen Fleming still cannot accept that he would wilfully abandon her. And the more she discovers about the nature of his research, the more she suspects that others were behind his disappearance.
Coffin Road follows three perilous journeys towards one shocking truth – and the realisation that ignorance can kill us. Amazon

I’ve just finished Beside Myself by Ann Morgan which wasn’t the book I was expecting, but more of that when I review it… soon.

Beside Myself

Read the synopsis and a taster in yesterday’s post.

Next up I have a copy of The Widow by Fiona Barton which I received the first chapter of when I went to Crime in the Court back in June – since then I managed to get a full copy which will be published on 14 January 2016. I’m really looking forward to this is the premise is one that fascinates me in real life…

The Widow


We’ve all seen him: the man – the monster – staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime.
But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him?
Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming.
Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil.
But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms.
Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows. Amazon

What have you found to read this week?

Posted in Weekly Posts

Stacking the Shelves (December 19)

Stacking the shelves

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you’re adding to your shelves, be it buying or borrowing. From ‘real’ books you’ve purchased, a book you’ve borrowed, a book you’ve been given or an e-book they can all be shared.

Mindful of the TBR, and you can see quite how bad this is in this post, I have only added a few quite a few books to my pile in the last two weeks but I think they are good ones, what do you think?

From the publisher MIRA I have a copy of Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris which will be published on 11 February 2016

Behind Closed Doors


Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace.
He has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You might not want to like them, but you do.
You’d like to get to know Grace better.
But it’s difficult, because you realise Jack and Grace are never apart.
Some might call this true love. Others might ask why Grace never answers the phone. Or how she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. And why there are bars on one of the bedroom windows.
Sometimes, the perfect marriage is the perfect lie. Goodreads

Then I saw that two of the Lake District Mysteries written by Martin Edwards were on special offer on the kindle. Having vowed to read more by this talented author after enjoying Dancing for the Hangman plus a very enticing review of his latest, The Dungeon House by Fiction Fan’s blog and a short story in An Anthology of Murder I would have been silly to ignore this – the first The Coffin Trail wasn’t on offer but I need to start at the beginning so I have this one…

The Coffin Trail


Oxford historian Daniel Kind and his partner Miranda both want to escape to a new life. On impulse they buy a cottage in Brackdale, an idyllic valley in the Lake District. But though they hope to live the dream, the past soon catches up with them. Goodreads

and… The Cipher Garden (Lake District Mysteries #2)

The Cipher Garden


Warren Howe is surprised by a hooded visitor whilst working in a garden in Old Sawrey. Soon he is dead – murdered with his own scythe. As the years pass, the culprit has yet to be found. However, after an anonymous tip-off, DCI Hannah Scarlett is soon on the case. Then there is yet another horrifying death.

From NetGalley I have a copy of The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths, book eight in the Ruth Galloway series; The Woman in Blue will be published on 4 February 2016.

The Woman in Blue


Forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway returns in a new thrilling mystery from the best-selling Elly Griffiths.
The murder of women priests in the shrine town of Walsingham sucks Dr Ruth Galloway into an unholy investigation.
When Ruth’s friend Cathbad sees a vision of the Virgin Mary, in a white gown and blue cloak, in the graveyard next to the cottage he is house-sitting, he takes it in his stride. Walsingham has strong connections to Mary, and Cathbad is a druid after all; visions come with the job. But when the body of a woman in a blue dressing-gown is found dead the next day in a nearby ditch, it is clear Cathbad’s vision was all too human, and that a horrible crime has been committed. DCI Nelson and his team are called in for the murder investigation, and soon establish that the dead woman was a recovering addict being treated at a nearby private hospital.
Ruth, a devout atheist, has managed to avoid Walsingham during her seventeen years in Norfolk. But then an old university friend, Hilary Smithson, asks to meet her in the village, and Ruth is amazed to discover that her friend is now a priest. Hilary has been receiving vitriolic anonymous letters targeting women priests – letters containing references to local archaeology and a striking phrase about a woman ‘clad in blue, weeping for the world’.
Then another woman is murdered – a priest.
As Walsingham prepares for its annual Easter re-enactment of the Crucifixion, the race is on to unmask the killer before they strike again… NetGalley

Back in 2012 I read Cambridge Blue by Alison Bruce and she was put on my ‘must read more of’ list and indeed I have one book on the TBR but then I saw The Promise which is to be published on 4 February 2016 (I now have three books to be reviewed before this date!)

The Promise


In a single night, Kyle Davidson’s life is derailed. His relationship is over, he is denied access to his young son and everything important to him is at risk.
His thoughts stumble between fear and revenge. Kyle Davidson has a choice to make.
Meanwhile, after the tragic end to a previous case, DC Gary Goodhew finds himself questioning his reasons for returning to work until the badly beaten body of a homeless man is found on Market Hill. Having known the homeless man for several years Goodhew feels compelled to be part of the investigation – but routine lines of enquiry soon take a dark and unexpected turn.
Suddenly the Cambridge back streets hold deadly secrets for Goodhew and the only person who has the answers is planning one final, desperate act. NetGalley

And I’ve left the best to last – I have a copy of Coffin Road by Peter May. I absolutely adored the Lewis Trilogy so am so looking forward to this one which was sent to me by Midas PR.

Coffin Road


A man stands bewildered on a deserted beach on the Hebridean Isle of Harris. He cannot remember who he is. He is physically shaken, borderline hypothermic, and overwhelmed by fear and uncertainty. The only clue to his identity is a folded map of a path named The Coffin Road. He does not know where this search will take him.
A detective from across the border in Lewis sits aboard a boat, filled with doubt. DS George Gunn knows that a bludgeoned corpse has been discovered on a remote rock twenty miles offshore. Though, having grown used to a quiet and predictable routine, he does not know whether he has what it takes to uncover how and why.
A teenage girl lies in her Edinburgh bedroom, desperate to discover the truth about her father. Two years on from the pioneering scientist’s disappearance, Karen Fleming still cannot accept that he would wilfully abandon her, regardless of the extreme pressure placed on him by his research. She does not know his secret. Goodreads

PicMonkey Collage TBR

Since my last count I have read 5 books, and gained 6, leading to a grand total of 171 books!
83 physical books
72 e-books
16 books on NetGalley

What have you found to read this week?