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.
I am currently reading the latest novel by Peter May, I’ll Keep You Safe, which like the Lewis Trilogy is set in part on the Outer Hebrides and will be published on 11 January 2018.
Niamh and Ruairidh Macfarlane co-own the Hebridean company Ranish Tweed. On a business trip to Paris to promote their luxury brand, Niamh learns of Ruairidh’s affair, and then looks on as he and his lover are killed by a car bomb. She returns home to Lewis, bereft.
I’LL ALWAYS BE THERE FOR YOU
Niamh begins to look back on her life with Ruairidh, desperate to identify anyone who may have held a grudge against him. The French police, meanwhile, have ruled out terrorism, and ruled in murder – and sent Detective Sylvie Braque to shadow their prime suspect: Niamh.
I’LL KEEP YOU SAFE, NO MATTER WHAT
As one woman works back through her memories, and the other moves forward with her investigation, the two draw ever closer to a deadly enemy with their own, murderous, designs. Amazon
The last book I finished was the thirteenth in the Hercule Poirot series; The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie in keeping with my vow to read more of my own books in 2018.
Agatha Christie’s world-famous serial killer mystery.
There’s a serial killer on the loose, bent on working his way through the alphabet. And as a macabre calling card he leaves beside each victim’s corpe the ABC Railway Guide open at the name of the town where the murder has taken place.
Having begun with Andover, Bexhill and then Churston, there seems little chance of the murderer being caught – until he makes the crucial and vain mistake of challenging Hercule Poirot to frustrate his plans… Amazon
‘Isn’t the life of any person made up out of the telling of two tales, after all? People live in the space between the realities of their lives and the hopes they have for them. The whole world makes more sense if you remember that everyone has two lives, their real lives and their dreams, both stories only a tape’s breadth apart from each other, impossibly divided, indivisibly close.’
Every year, Robert’s family come together at a rambling old house to celebrate his birthday. Aunts, uncles, distant cousins – it has been a milestone in their lives for decades. But this year Robert doesn’t want to be reminded of what has happened since they last met – and neither, for quite different reasons, does his granddaughter Kate. Neither of them is sure they can face the party. But for both Robert and Kate, it may become the most important gathering of all. Amazon
What does your reading week look like? Have you read any of my choices? Are you planning to?
This has to be Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine when you take into the stand-alones and the Wexford series I have devoured a fair few of her books.
Best Sequel Ever
This is really hard but I’m going to pick The Lewis Man by Peter May which is the middle book of the Lewis Trilogy – if you haven’t read these, you are missing out.
Play Dead by Angela Marsons the fourth in the amazing Kim Stone series
Drink of Choice While Reading
Coffee, coffee and coffee – I’m addicted
E-Reader or Physical Book
I love my kindle and couldn’t live without it for ease and space reasons but I now accept that I prefer a physical book
Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated in High School
At the time I was in high school it would have been Rupert Campbell-Black from Jilly Cooper’sRiders although he would have been far too old for me of course!
Glad You Gave this Book a Chance
There are loads but most recently, Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris was an amazing read, one that has softened my opinion of literary fiction considerably.
Hidden Gem Book
White Lie by Andrea Gillies which blew me away with its deep and dark secrets that shaped generations of the Salter family in Scotland.
Important Moment in Your Reading Life
Being invited to join the Amazon Vine program which meant that I was offered books that I might previously have ignored which really expanded my reading.
Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica
Kind of Books You Won’t Read
No fantasy novels or sci-fi – I’ve tried to embrace the genre but it just isn’t me!
Longest Book You’ve Read
I’m not sure this is the longest in all time but about six years ago I read London by Edward Rutherfield which came in at a whopping 1152 pages – it took a long time for me to read but it was worth it to travel through London’s history and witness the changes.
Major Book Hangover
Ooh this is hard, possibly after reading Burial Rites by Hannah Kent where I had immersed myself in Agnes’s story in Iceland where she awaited trial for murder with the Jonsson family – heartbreakingly sad!
Number of Bookcases You Own
Four but I desperately need a new one, I can’t part with any of the books currently residing in my abode!!
One Book You’ve Read Multiple Times
Margaret Forster’sShadow Baby a book which underlines the fact that mothers come in all shapes and sizes and not always in a good way! Better still this is one of those dual time-line stories which I love!
Preferred Place to Read
If I could be on holiday all year round it would be by the pool on a sun-lounger with a fruity cocktail – reality designates my dear bed though.
Quote that Inspires You/Gives You all the Feels from a Book You’ve Read
I’m not sure that this inspires me so I’m going for the second half of the question from The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
That I will never have time to read all the books that I want to!
Series You Started and Need to Finish
Lots and lots, including those that I started part way through! The one I am most compelled to finish is Camilla Läckberg’s Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck series– I’m up to book eight, Buried Angels but I think I still need to read book four too!
Three of Your All-Time Favourite Books
I’m not sure how I’m supposed to choose just three, I will but on the proviso that I can change my mind at any time to include the three-hundred books which would be a far fairer question.
Asta’s Book by Barbara Vine
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brook
I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
Unapologetic Fangirl For
I’m not really a fangirl in the long-term way, maybe I don’t have the stamina but everyone who talks books to me gets told about the aforementioned Lewis Trilogy by Peter May
Very Excited for this Release more than All Others
This has to be Love You Dead by Peter James which is out later this month! Considering I am fairly rubbish at reading series, this is one I always pre-order and make space in the reading schedule for!
Worst Bookish Habit
Buying far too many books that deep down I know I will never have time to read.
X Marks the Spot: Start on the Top Left of Your Shelf and Pick the 27th Book
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, which is a ‘sliding-doors’ novel; Irina McGovern’s destiny hinges on a single kiss. Whether she stays with her reliable partner Lawrence, or runs off with Ramsey, a hard-living snooker player.
Your Latest Purchase
Pariah by David Jackson, the first in Detective Callum Doyle series bought because although I have the fourth in this series, Cry Baby, I enjoyed A Tapping at my Door so much I wanted to start at the beginning of his previous series.
Zzzzz-Snatcher Book (Last Book that Kept You up Way too late)
White Is The Coldest Colour by John Nicholl which was not only compulsive reading, the subject matter was so dark sleep wouldn’t come easily anyway.
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.’
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
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!
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.
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.
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…
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
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
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…
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)
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.
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!)
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.
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
Since my last count I have read 5 books, and gained 6, leading to a grand total of 171 books!
83 physical books
16 books on NetGalley
As I have now been reviewing for over five years I thought I’d highlight my favourite book for each month from 2011 until 2015 to remind myself of the good ones. When we are talking five years ago, they must be good if I still remember them!
I have long been fascinated with books that examine what makes children kill and what repercussions that has on the both the victims families but those of the perpetrator. One such book that examines this phenomenon is The Child Who by Simon Leilic which I read in November 2011.
An unimaginable crime and the man who must defend it-a probing psychological thriller from the author of A Thousand Cuts. A chance phone call throws the biggest murder case in southern England into the hands of provincial attorney Leo Curtice. Twelve-year- old Daniel Blake stands accused of murdering an eleven-year-old girl. But who is truly responsible when one child kills another? As Curtice sets out to defend the indefensible, he soon finds himself pitted against an enraged community calling for blood. When the build-up of pressure takes a sinister turn, he fears for his wife and young daughter’s safety. Must he choose between his family and the life of a damaged child? With piercing psychological insight, Lelic examines a community’s response to a hideous crime.
November 2012 saw me read the very first of the Lewis Trilogy, The Blackhouse by Peter May – one of my best complete chance discoveries ever – this was long before I began blogging and was ill in bed and picked it up as a kindle deal for a mere 99p. Luckily for me the second book had already been published and I didn’t have to wait long for the final part. The Blackhouse (and the following two books) has strands in the past that link to a mystery in the present whilst being set in an amazing landscape and has a captivating chief protagonist in Fin Macleod.
When a brutal murder on the Isle of Lewis bears the hallmarks of a similar slaying in Edinburgh, police detective Fin Macleod is dispatched north to investigate. But since he himself was raised on Lewis, the investigation also represents a journey home and into his past.
The end of 2013 saw the beginning of a raft of books published to commemorate 100 years since the start of WWI and one of my favourite’s was The Moon Field by Judith Allnatt. This is a coming of age story set in war-time and the author certainly doesn’t sugar coat the realities of this war – the descriptions of the cold and the mud, the noise and the horror were all amongst the pages of this book, whilst ensuring that this was a story and not a history lesson.
Click on the book cover to read my review
It is 1914. George Farrell cycles through the tranquil Cumberland fells to deliver a letter, unaware that it will change his life. George has fallen for the beautiful daughter at the Manor House, Miss Violet, but when she lets slip the contents of the letter George is heartbroken to discover that she is already promised to another man. George escapes his heartbreak by joining the patriotic rush to war, but his past is not so easily avoided. His rite of passage into adulthood leaves him beliveing that no woman will be able to love the man he has become.
In 2014 I my favourite choice was a book loosely based on a real-life crime, that committed against Meredith Kercher who was killed in Italy whilst studying, one of the chief suspects was her American housemate who has now finally been cleared. In The Perfect Mother by Nina Darnton the role of a mother whose child is suspected of murder in a foreign country was convincingly and shockingly imagined.
Click on the book cover to read my review
When an American exchange student is accused of murder, her mother will stop at nothing to save her.
A midnight phone call shatters Jennifer Lewis’s carefully orchestrated life. Her daughter, Emma, who’s studying abroad in Spain, has been arrested after the brutal murder of another student. Jennifer rushes to her side, certain the arrest is a terrible mistake and determined to do whatever is necessary to bring Emma home. But as she begins to investigate the crime, she starts to wonder whether she ever really knew her daughter. The police charge Emma, and the press leaps on the story, exaggerating every sordid detail. One by one, Emma’s defense team, her father, and finally even Jennifer begin to have doubts.
A novel of harrowing emotional suspense, The Perfect Mother probes the dark side of parenthood and the complicated bond between mothers and daughters.
My choice for the best read in November 2015 was sparked from a television adaption, quite amazing as a rarely get to even hold the remote and in this instance it was left on a channel in the background. The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley is one of the best books I have ever read – I loved this coming of age tale, so much I’m sure I will have to re-read it before too long.
Click on the book cover to read my review
Summering with a fellow schoolboy on a great English estate, Leo, the hero of L. P. Hartley’s finest novel, encounters a world of unimagined luxury. But when his friend’s beautiful older sister enlists him as the unwitting messenger in her illicit love affair, the aftershocks will be felt for years. The inspiration for the brilliant Joseph Losey/Harold Pinter film starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates, The Go-Between is a masterpiece—a richly layered, spellbinding story about past and present, naiveté and knowledge, and the mysteries of the human heart.
I hope you have enjoyed my trip through my November reads, if you missed the previous months you can find them here although sadly I didn’t manage to do the list for July and August.
Having loved all the previous books I’ve read by Peter May, The Lewis Trilogy and Entry Island I was thrilled to be offered this talented writer’s newest offering Runaway.
Jack MacKay narrates our story, told in part in 1965 when as a young lad he ran away from Glasgow with a group of friends to see if the streets of London were paved with gold. The boys were in a band and they were determined to make a name for themselves, all eager to see the bright lights and to remove themselves from various difficult situations. The gang was made up of a Jewish boy, a Jehovah Witness, A mechanic and Jack who’d just got himself expelled from school. In 2015 three of the same group of friends are on a mission to grant one of their number his dying wish, to return to London to right a wrong from many years before. In both time periods they meet a number of challenges, some of them almost farcical in nature and some that put intolerable strain on their friendship.
It appears that we are in a time where writers are making older people their focus rather than the bit parts that they have traditionally been given, I’m thinking of Elizabeth is Missing and The Girl Next Door which I read last year, and Peter May really gets across how getting older can be a cause of regret, he doesn’t gloss over unachieved ambitions but neither is this book all doom and gloom, giving a good balance by illustrating that there is a sense of the perspective gained by getting older as well as that old truth that in their minds the group may be older but they still feel the same as they’ve always done, just perhaps a little slower. Life’s lessons are delivered to Rick, Jack’s grandson who has been torn away from his twilight lifestyle gaming to act as the driver for the 2015 adventure.
At first I found the narrative style, particularly of the 1965 trip off-putting as it is told by Jack looking back at this time and this inevitably means that some of the views felt way too old for the boy he would have been. There are political statements made about a range of issues including social housing, food banks, unemployment amongst others which made me feel like an elderly Uncle was lecturing me which I found disconcerting. As the story progresses and we find out the part the man who has been brutally murdered in 2015 played in the episodes from 1965, the narrative clicked and story felt more natural. The story is rescued from being entirely from a male perspective with a cousin of one of the group joining them in London. Peter May is a master at drawing a range of believable characters, and that is true in this book too with each member of the group drawn distinctly, I especially loved Jeff and his turn of phrase. As the book draws to a close there were a number of surprises for me as my conclusions proved way off the mark, as usual.
This is a semi-autobiographical novel featuring some of Peter May’s own escapades in London back in the sixties, and it certainly reads like an autobiography, although hopefully the crime committed is fantasy. As such there are references to the music of the time along with details of clothes worn that pertain would add a feeling of nostalgia if only I’d been born then.
I would like to thank the publishers for allowing me to read Runaway and for any of Peter May’s fans that may have been in a band and who lived during this time of change, this is a must read. Runaway is due to be published on 15 January 2015.