On this windy Isle of Lewis kind of day here on the eastern shore of Maryland, I spied in our library the Scottish novel, The Black House by Peter May that takes place at the northern tip of The Isle Lewis called the Butt of Lewis. The Butt of Lewis is a remote part of the world with a well-protected harbor, the strongest winds I have ever experienced, Standing Stones you can walk up to and touch, a beach to die for, and a magnificent lighthouse. In the novel we are introduced to a murder as a pair of young lovers are looking for a place to enjoy each other for their first time only to discover a dead man. Fin MacLeod, a cop, wakes from his usual nightmare across Scotland in Edinburgh. My ancestors are of Clan MacLeod and besides The Isle of Skye, The Isle of Lewis and Harris are the resting place of many MacLeods and sites of many ancestral homes. Here we go. It isn’t a day to ride, so I’ll stay in and read. It’s a wonder why we always return to our roots.
There’s an uncanny connection to Bank’s Stonemouth another Scottish novel. Both characters returning to the place of their birth after years away. They left to get away, to make a life, to move on, and in the end they return. In both cases it is the death of someone they knew.
Fin is finding himself spending more time in his past than in the present and on this case. He is there to solve the copycat murder of a bully, Angus, from his youth. He is crossing paths with people from his past and old wounds are bleeding again. When he left Edinburgh we know he had recently lost a son, we don’t know why. When he returns to his old home he discovers another son. And then there is the murder of Angus he has to get back to.
As Fin reflects on his aunt who raised him after his parents died that he didn’t know a thing about her, except she left Lewis for America, was at Woodstock, lived in San Francisco and New York and returned to Lewis. He comments how he laments this loss and wished to have learned more of her, ‘But, of course, you can’t go back.’ This is a classic theme I’ve seen in so many of the recent books I’ve been reading. We can’t go back and yet we try. I went back to Nantucket after thirty years and wow that was very weird.
Chapter Eleven is a brilliant rites of passage account of the unique custom of the men of Ness who spend a fortnight hunting and harvesting gugas on the treacherous cliffs on the Isle of Sula Sgeir.
Getting even, allowing anger to cause angry words, and just plain revenge is an awful force. Second chances come only from truth and when truth is revealed. A bloody good tale.