The first book I am reading for the crime reading group at the library is this one:
Set mainly on the Isle of Lewis, it’s an interesting read, mainly for the settings and the characters rather than the plot. The story begins in Edinburgh, whereupon I thought, ‘Oh, no! He’s trying to do a Rebus and doing it badly’. No-one can do Edinburgh like Rankin and it is foolish to try: however, the story soon returned to the Shetlands and more specifically, to the Isle of Lewis where the main character Fin had grown up. I couldn’t help thinking of a quote from Rebus here, when he went to the Shetlands in a ‘paraffin budgie’ and was told: ‘You’re a Sooth-moother now, heading for miles and miles of bugger-all.’
As soon as we land on Lewis we are confronted by a storm of Gaelic names. I have always found Gaelic spelling bizarre and incomprehensible and, being a person who likes to know how to pronounce words when I read them, I was constantly having to refer to the pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book.
Fin is a detective, and there’s murder here, of course: a murder which he is sent to investigate and which leads to the unravelling of much of his childhood when he discovers that his childhood sweetheart’s child who has been brought up by her and and his best friend, is in fact his.
But the real hero of this tale is the landscape: the wildness of the countryside, just the two roads crossing the Island, and most dramatically of all, the sparkling white, guano-covered rock where the men go to harvest gugas, baby birds which are considered a delicacy. This is contrasted with the Black House, a smoking-house blackened by the smoke of generations, which is the scene of murder.
I enjoyed this book although I found it a little long at 500 pages: I also found the transitions between first- and third-person narration unnecessary and intrusive. But still it’s worth a read, if only for an impression of what it’s like to live on Lewis. So go find a copy – although if you’re in Leicester you won’t, because they’ve all been lent to the crime reading group!