Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy influenced my reading more than anything else last year. From the minute I finished the second title, my cravings for part three began. To distract myself I went on a reader’s island hop round the globe. Accumulated a goodly number of air miles too!
(2990) From the Isle of Lewis to the fictional island of Skios
(1557) From Skios to Venice
(5854) To Java
(4727) To New Zealand
(5600) New Zealand to Samoa
(7295) Then to an unspecified location in the Caribbean where I was shipwrecked for a while.
(8220) Rescued finally by January in Japan
(6806) To bring me back to the Isle of Lewis.
By my reckoning that’s 43,539 airmiles, just to end up back where I started. Was it worth it?
Well, there is the weather on the Isle of Lewis but the atmospheric landscape more than makes up for that.
The sight that greeted him was almost supernatural. The mountains of south-west Lewis rose up steeply all around, disappearing into the obscurity of low clouds. The valley below seemed wider than it had by the lightning of the night before. The giants shards of rock that littered its floor grew like spectres out of a mist that rolled up from the East, where a not yet visible sun cast an unnaturally red glow.
This leads us straight into the mystery of the disappearing loch.
Then he turned back to the valley. But there was no loch. Just a big empty hole … A mile long, half a mile across, and fifty or sixty feet deep.
A bog burst – the thought of all that water simply sliding away to another destination terrifies me. The discovery of a small plane with corpse on the bed of the one-time loch chills me further particularly when I start to think about the moments the plane is going down. Moving swiftly on …
The grisly discovery is made by Fin Macleod and the confidante of his teenage years, wild man Whistler Macaskill. Assumptions are made about the identity of the body in the plane and this brings back many of Fin’s former friends for the funeral – including a past love. Many old tensions and rivalries bubble right back to the surface … with developments turning ever more sinister. Fortunately the Lewis Chessmen are on hand to help.
So far, so good but the underlying strength of May’s trilogy lies not in the murderous plots but in the complicated human transactions that form the stuff of life. Fin’s now living with his childhood sweetheart, Marsaili, but they cannot recreate what they had in the years before his selfishness wrecked their romance. Whistler is estranged from his rebellious teenage daughter (the most vivid character study of the piece). Cantankerous Donald, the Free Church minister, while not facing a legal trial, must answer to an ecclesiastical panel for his shooting of a gangster in The Lewis Man
The present is always haunted by the past and while atonement and redemption are hoped for, they are not always possible. Neither can consequences be avoided. It’s a question of whether the characters can – or even whether the author will let them – live with the outcomes. (Question to author – ARC p 378 How could you?)
Fin’s future on the island will be as coloured by these events as his present was coloured by the events of his teenage years. Only he’s now sadder and wiser and worse still, middle-aged. This is no trilogy with the hero walking off into a glorious sunset but he may, just may, be able to set some matters straight.