Posted by: billpurdue | October 3, 2014

Crime in the far north

A few weeks ago I wrote about my holiday in the Outer Hebrides and how it was possible to find books for sale even in the humble post office. Well, in almost all these shops it was possible to find on sale copies of the Peter May crime trilogy, “The Lewis Trilogy”. I’ve just read “The Black House”, the first book in the series, and I can thoroughly recommend it.

 BlackHouse

The main subject of the book is the journey of an Edinburgh based detective Fin McCleod back to the countryside of his childhood on the Isle of Lewis and his meetings with people who many years ago had been major players in his circle of friends. There has been a murder in Edinburgh and shortly afterwards another murder on the Isle of Lewis. There are significant similarities between the two crimes and so Fin is asked to help the police on Lewis. For Fin it is a rediscovery of his childhood, the reopening of some old wounds as well as a murder investigation. His childhood sweetheart is now married to his best friend at school, but all is not well between husband and wife and their son, Fionnlagh. Then there was the time when Fin, as a teenager, took part in the annual ‘harvest’ of seabirds (‘gugas’) on a lonely rock about 50 miles out at sea and the tragedy that occurred there. A large part of the book is taken up with the story of Fin’s childhood and schooldays, so at first the reader might wonder what relevance this has to the crime being investigated, but gradually all becomes clear. Near the end, when revelations come thick and fast , it becomes a real edge-of-the-seat thriller.

The names of many places in the book were familiar to me, having passed through or perhaps visited them, but the main focus of the story is the village of Crobost, a fictitious place comprising the real hamlets of Adabroc and Skigersta. For those unfamiliar with Gaelic pronunciation, there’s a handy list at the beginning of Gaelic words and proper names to be found in the story and how they are pronounced. There is some gritty detail in the descriptions – if you’re squeamish, then beware the lengthy description of the post mortem near the start of the book.

It’s not all “Scandi-noir”

Promotional poster

Promotional poster

Still on the subject of crime, I’m enjoying the Swedish crime series nearing the end of its run on BBC Four, called “Crimes of Passion” (“Mördaren ljuger inte ensam” in Swedish). These are quite different whodunnits, more in the tradition or style of Dorothy L Sayers or Agatha Christie, but set some time later than those novels, in the early 1960s. The episodes are all based on six of the early novels by the prolific Swedish crime novelist Maria Lang (real name Dagmar Lange, 1914-1991), written in the late 1940s and early 1950s, according to Wikipedia. They are certainly a pleasant change from the gory stuff we’ve been used to calling “Scandi-noir”. Unfortunately I’ve found it difficult to discover any copies of the Lang novels in English, but maybe you can.

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