Review of “The Lewis Man” by Peter May

Note: This review is by my husband Jim.

The Lewis Man is the second installment of a trilogy featuring Fin MacLeod, a one-time Edinburg detective. This book opens with an omniscient narrator telling the reader that the body of a man has been found buried in the peat on the Isle of Lewis, the northernmost of the Outer Hebrides. Several other bodies like these have been discovered in Northern Europe where there are large peat bogs. The bogs have the unusual property of preserving bodies remarkably well, for hundreds if not thousands of years. Even the skin is preserved although it is darkened by the peat. Sites where “bog bodies” have been found have become popular tourist stops.

The Tollund Man was discovered in a Denmark bog in 1950 with skin so well-preserved, the wrinkles on his face are still clearly visible. FLICKR/CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the characters looking at the dead body asks, “What shall we call him?” Having been discovered on the Isle of Lewis, he becomes “the Lewis Man.” A preliminary examination indicates that he was probably murdered by several stab wounds to the chest and by a vicious slitting of the throat. At least one other peat body nearby had shown signs of murder, but since carbon dating ascertained it was several hundred years old, the police had no interest in it. But in this case, an autopsy on the body revealed a tattoo of Elvis Presley, indicating that the murder was relatively recent, and the culprit, or culprits, may still be alive.

The narration of the book switches abruptly from omniscience to the first person ramblings of a man named Tormod with Alzheimer’s disease.

The omniscient narrator returns and we are introduced (reintroduced if you read The Blackhouse, the first book of the trilogy), to Detective Sergeant Finlay (Fin) Macleod of the Edinburgh police force. He grew up on Lewis but left it 18 years before. Now his marriage is breaking up after 16 years, largely because of tensions arising from the hit and run death of his son Robbie. Fin returns to his boyhood home of the Isle of Lewis, which just happens to be where the bog body was discovered. Because of Fin’s background as a big city detective, he gets involved in the investigation of the murder of the Lewis Man.

The author continues to alternate the stories of Tormod and Fin. Tormod is quite confused about the present, but his recollections of his past are lucid. We gradually learn that Tormod was a Catholic orphan from the mainland who was sent with his brother to the islands to become virtual slaves to dour and uncaring foster parents. During Fin’s investigation of the murder, we find out how Fin and Tormod are connected, as their lives now intersect once again.

Both Fin’s and Tormod’s stories are interesting in themselves, involving as they do the very quirky background of the outer islands. As was true of The Blackhouse, the book moves along through the power of excellent writing and an interesting resolution of the crime under investigation. But as was also the case with The Blackhouse,, the author has a surprise in the concluding chapters where the genre shifts from detective police procedure to thriller. The denouement provides not only a satisfactory solution to the murder, but a heart-pounding culmination to some unexpected dangers.

Rating: 4/5

Published in the U.S. by Quercus, 2014

About rhapsodyinbooks

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3 Responses to Review of “The Lewis Man” by Peter May

  1. kaysreadinglife says:

    I’ve read all 3 of the books in this trilogy and I think that The Lewis Man is my favorite – by a slim margin. There are very poignant things in this book, but it’s also a really good mystery. Makes me want to read it again. LOL

  2. I’ve got several of his books here and need to try one of them since you liked this one.

  3. Beth F says:

    I loved this trilogy!

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