Like many I experienced a feeling of desolation when I turned the final page of The Lewis Trilogy last year. So I was delighted when I realised that Peter May’s new standalone novel was once more to take me to an island setting. Even more so, when I realised not one, but two.
The eponymous Entry Island is located inside the St Lawrence Gulf and was the place where Scottish immigrants, forcibly evicted from their homes during the Highland Clearances, were quarantined. In May’s novel it is also the setting of a contemporary murder investigation during which the sometimes erratic behaviour of the lead interrogator, Sime, is coloured by a) his failed marriage, b) his insomnia, and c) his conviction of knowing the prime suspect, Kirsty, despite never having met her before,
It is this third strand that leads us back to the Hebridean past via two pieces of jewellry and the journals of Sime’s ancestor; a past that is both evocative, informative and engrossing, detailing the harsh lives in the blackhouses on the Isle of Lewis, the even harsher realities of the Atlantic crossing and the difficulties once the Canadian shore has been gained. Not forgetting the doomed love story that continues to haunt the contemporary narrative …
which I confess, convinced me less. Complex human relationships are authentically drawn and the landscapes, as ever, finely and lovingly painted. BUT (yes, a big one) was there ever such an incompetent set of detectives? (Sime is part of a team.). My disbelief turned to incredulousness when they completely disregarded a major incident …. May also reuses plot elements from The Blackhouse – similarities to Finn’s background and for a moment I thought we were going to see a repeat of the denouement on Sula Gheir. On second thoughts, perhaps these are playful nods to the fan base. If so, I, like that. Also echoes and foreshadowings of the past leaking into the present. Yet, like Sime, there was something that wouldn’t let me go, that preoccupied me. The Gaelic pronunciaton of Sime is Sheem but, in my English head, he was Sime, short for Simon. Combine that with the surname of the prime suspect, Cowell, and somehow it wasn’t as atmospheric imagining you-know-who running around ….