Since The Lewis Trilogy goes down as a favourite read of mine of all time, I was delighted to be offered a copy of this, the latest standalone novel, by Peter May also set in the Outer Hebrides. You will just have to imagine my excitement when I opened the front cover to find that I’ll Keep You Safe has a wonderful map of the places on the islands mentioned throughout the novel. Even better for those with a lack of Gaelic, there is a list of pronunciations so I didn’t have to do what I normally do which is to make up a word that looks close all the while knowing that wouldn’t pass muster anywhere except in my head.
The action doesn’t start in the Hebrides though, the setting for the explosive opening is in Paris soon after a confrontation between and her husband Ruairidh (Roo-are-ee) of ten years. Niamh has read an email sent from a well-wisher, informing her that Ruairidh is having an affair with his Russian business associate Irina. Ruairidh and Niamh are in Paris on business, the one they built together selling Ranish tweed, spun locally and sold to high end fashion designers world-wide.
After the opening Niamh is left alone, traumatised by the unexpected turn of events and she starts reflecting on her life living in Ranish, her relationship with her parents and Ruairidh’s parents trying to understand events that have never been properly confronted before.
Peter May has chosen to narrate this tale from two female viewpoints. In the main we hear from Niamh, either reflecting on the past or in the present trying to come to terms with recent events. The other narrator is Detective Braque from the French Police, a divorced woman who is trying to balance her job with the demands of twins, and it has to be said on the most part failing.
I love Peter May’s writing and the picture he paints of life on the Scottish Isles is so vivid that as in his previous books, I felt I knew the place so much so that I could easily be convinced I’ve visited despite the fact I haven’t. The descriptions of summers full of midges, the rain never far away, and the joys of playing house in amongst a pile of peat all add to the picture. Equally well portrayed is what life is like on the island, both in the past when Niamh was growing up and in more recently where she and Ruairidh built their own house at the edge of the island. The claustrophobia of everyone knowing each other’s business, the churches that rule a whole way of life which means discos for the youngsters end earlier to ensure there is no carousing on the Sabbath and the funeral rituals are all presented to illustrate the traditional views held by the islanders.
Despite being swept away by Niamh’s tale I was slightly less convinced by the ending which involved a leap of faith that I didn’t quite manage but there is no doubt at all that I’ll Keep You Safe ends on a bang in keeping with the explosive opening. With a book full of luscious descriptions as well an introduction into traditional weaving this is a book that will conjure up a mass of images illustrating a way of life which is unique to these Scottish islands. Even better these qualities are combined with characters that walk out of the pages and into your life.
I was very grateful to be sent a copy of I’ll Keep You Safe by the publisher Quercus. This unbiased review is my thank you to them.
You can read an extract from this book in yesterday’s post which formed part of the Blog Tour celebrating publication of this novel today, 11 January 2018.
First Published UK: 11 January 2018
No of Pages: 436
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
When I heard that Peter May was publishing another book set in the Outer Hebrides my excitement knew no bounds so I was absolutely thrilled to be contacted by Midas PR to see if I would like to be part of the blog tour to celebrate publication.
Peter May has kindly provided extracts from I’ll Keep You Safe which starts in Paris, so don’t forget to catch yesterday’s extract at Anne bonny book reviews before moving on to this, the second extract of the blog tour. Extract 2
By the time she got to the lobby, Ruairidh and Irina had left the hotel. Through glass doors that gave on to the square, Niamh saw them getting into Irina’s car, a white A-Class Mercedes, its hazard lights flashing.
Niamh sprinted through the lobby, pausing breathlessly to let two sets of sliding doors open, before running out on to the pavement, assailed by a thousand city smells and sounds carried on cooling night breezes. The Mercedes was already accelerating away, past the lines of police vehicles, towards the traffic lights at the far end of the Place.
A classical-looking building on the block beyond the Crowne Plaza was clad in scaffolding, and simmered darkly behind mesh screening. Workmen’s trucks and a couple of skips lined up along the pavement in front of it, abandoned for the night.
Niamh ran out into the middle of the street, past a classic revolving Morris column, with its domed top, advertising a rerun of Le Fusible at the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens. Several armed police officers turned to look at her, suddenly alert. But she didn’t even see them. The brake lights of the Mercedes glowed red as it stopped at the lights beyond the workmen’s trucks, and the left indicator began to flash. Niamh glanced across the square, beyond the thirty-foot statue of Marianne picked out by symbolic red, white and blue spots, and thought that if she ran a diagonal across the slabs, she could reach the far end of the square in time to cut the car off before it was gone for good. If only the lights would stay red long enough.
She ran past the graffiti-covered red containers that lined the nearside of the pavement, sprinting beyond Marianne and the steps that led down to the Métro République. Off to her left she was only vaguely aware of the diners who sat out at green metal tables at the Café Fluctuat Nec Mergitur. Destroyed by fire early in 2015, it had been reopened, and renamed with the motto of Paris following the terrorist attacks later that same year. Tossed by the waves but never sunk. It was about to be tossed once more.
Niamh saw the lights change to green and the Mercedes start to turn left across the flow of traffic. And then she was blinded. A searing, burning light that obliterated all else, just a fraction of a second before the shockwave from the blast knocked her off her feet. As she hit the ground, sight returned. She saw glass flying from the broken windows of the Fluctuat Nec Mergitur, tables and chairs spinning away across the square. As she rolled over, the Mercedes was still in the air. Later she would remember it as being ten feet or more off the ground. But in fact it was probably no more than eighteen or twenty inches. Flaming debris showered down across the Place de la République as the car slammed back on to the road, a ball of flame.
While her sight had returned, her hearing had not. The tinnitus was deafening. Then somewhere beyond it she heard a voice screaming. It was some moments before she realized it was her own. She pulled herself to her knees but did not have the strength to stand up, supporting herself on her arms and transfixed by the blazing vehicle on the road. Somewhere in her peripheral vision, beyond awareness, she saw dark figures running in the night. Long, flickering shadows cast by the light of the burning car.
Screams still tore themselves from her throat. Repeated, hysterical bursts of them. Before she understood that it was his name she was shrieking at the night. She felt hands grasp her arms on either side, men in uniform and dark body armour lifting her to her feet. One of them was shouting at her. His lips were moving, but she couldn’t hear him. And then a woman moved into her field of vision. A woman with long dark hair cascading over shoulders draped in silk, a shawl wrapped around her above a pencil skirt and high heels. She flashed a wallet from her bag at the men who held Niamh. With the blaze behind her, Niamh couldn’t see the woman’s face. And yet somehow her voice cut through everything else. A commanding voice edged with concern.
Niamh felt tears burning tracks down her cheeks and stopped screaming to draw breath. Although she could now hear the words, she couldn’t understand them. She shook her head hopelessly. Then suddenly there was clarity. The woman was speaking English.
‘You are English?’
She almost certainly only wanted to know that Niamh understood her. But Niamh had never been able to think of herself that way. ‘Scottish,’ she said, her voice was hoarse already. Then she thought what an absurd distinction it was in a moment like this.
‘You were running towards the car.’
‘Ruairidh . . .’ Just saying his name caused her throat to close and fresh tears to scald her face. She took a moment to find her breath again. ‘My husband.’
‘Your husband was in the car?’
Niamh nodded vigorously. ‘And Irina.’
‘Vetrov. The fashion designer.’ She found light now in the woman’s eyes. ‘They’re dead, aren’t they?’
The woman nodded.
Niamh broke down again. Sobs contracting in her chest, almost completely blocking the flow of air to her lungs. The woman put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. ‘Why were you running towards the car?’ It was a refrain that would repeat itself often in the hours to come.
‘They were . . .’ In her shock and confusion she searched hopelessly for the right word. ‘Lovers.’ She sucked in air between sobs. ‘All this time and I never knew it.’ She searched the light in the eyes that gazed at her, looking for . . . what? Sympathy? Reason? ‘Now I’ll never be able to ask him why.’
I think you’ll have to agree that it’s all a little bit tense… You can read my review of I’ll Keep You Safe tomorrow, the date of publication.
– the Lewis Trilogy set in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland;
– the China Thrillers, featuring Beijing detective Li Yan and American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell;
– the Enzo Files, featuring Scottish forensic scientist Enzo MacLeod, which is set in France. The sixth and final Enzo book is Cast Iron (January 2017, Riverrun).
He has also written several standalone books:
– I’ll Keep You Safe (January 2018, Riverrun)
– Entry Island (January 2014, Quercus UK)
– Runaway (January 2015, Quercus UK)
– Coffin Road (January 2016, Riverrun)
May had a successful career as a television writer, creator, and producer.
One of Scotland’s most prolific television dramatists, he garnered more than 1000 credits in 15 years as scriptwriter and script editor on prime-time British television drama. He is the creator of three major television drama series and presided over two of the highest-rated serials in his homeland before quitting television to concentrate on his first love, writing novels.
Born and raised in Scotland he lives in France.
His breakthrough as a best-selling author came with The Lewis Trilogy. After being turned down by all the major UK publishers, the first of the The Lewis Trilogy – The Blackhouse – was published in France as L’Ile des Chasseurs d’Oiseaux where it was hailed as “a masterpiece” by the French national newspaper L’Humanité. His novels have a large following in France. The trilogy has won several French literature awards, including one of the world’s largest adjudicated readers awards, the Prix Cezam.
The Blackhouse was published in English by the award-winning Quercus (a relatively young publishing house which did not exist when the book was first presented to British publishers). It went on to become an international best seller, and was shortlisted for both Barry Award and Macavity Award when it was published in the USA. The Blackhouse won the US Barry Award for Best Mystery Novel at Bouchercon in Albany NY, in 2013.
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!