Wednesday 18 December 2013

Book Review: Entry Island by Peter May

Entry Island
Peter May
Quercus Books
5 Stars


When Detective Sime Mackenzie boards a light aircraft at Montreal's St. Hubert airfield, he does so without looking back. For Sime, the 850-mile journey ahead represents an opportunity to escape the bitter blend of loneliness and regret that has come to characterise his life in the city.

Travelling as part of an eight-officer investigation team, Sime's destination lies in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Only two kilometres wide and three long, Entry Island is home to a population of around 130 inhabitants - the wealthiest of which has just been discovered murdered in his home.

The investigation itself appears little more than a formality. The evidence points to a crime of passion: the victim's wife the vengeful culprit. But for Sime the investigation is turned on its head when he comes face to face with the prime suspect, and is convinced that he knows her - even though they have never met.

Haunted by this certainty his insomnia becomes punctuated by dreams of a distant past on a Scottish island 3,000 miles away. Dreams in which the widow plays a leading role. Sime's conviction becomes an obsession. And in spite of mounting evidence of her guilt he finds himself convinced of her innocence, leading to a conflict between the professional duty he must fulfil, and the personal destiny that awaits him.


Sime MacKenzie (pronounced Sheem as the book helpfully says) is a detective sent to Entry Island
along with other officers, including his ex-wife Marie-Ange, to investigate the death of the wealthiest islander, Cowell. It seems an open and shut case, Cowell was having an affair with the wife of the mayor of another island. Kirsty Cowell, the widow, is the main suspect.

It's only once they are on the island that Sime thinks he knows her, although the two of them
have never met.

I first discovered Peter May quite recently with his Lewis trilogy. I'd avidly read the first two books and was in the bookhsop every week to see if the third had arrived. So when I got the chance to review this new book of his, I was very pleased.

I wasn't disappointed. Although set on a Canadian island rather than a Scottish one, May still has encapsulated what it is like to live somewhere so cut-off and so remote. A place where you know all your neighbours and everyone knows your business.

Like the Lewis trilogy, we have a present day story interspersed with a historical one, in this book the historical sections are about Sime's ancestor, also called Sime and his hard life on Lewis and then the forced emigration to Canada, like a lot of his countrymen.

Now, one thing I didn't know, was that the potato famine hadn't just affected Ireland, it affected parts of Scotland too. Thinking about the potato blight, that does seem to make sense, as the climate of Ireland and western Scotland and the Isles would be quite similar.

It's the characters who make this story, the murder mystery plot almost seems incidental. If there
is such a thing as a literary crime novel, I think this might be it. May has a good eye for description and everything is very evocative. My favourite parts were the historical ones but I didn't dislike the modern parts, they were both very well done.

Both Simes are such sympathetic characters and you really feel for what they went through. At times it is a tough read because of some of the subject matter, such as the violence inflicted on the crofters by the landlords and agents who wanted them off their lands. Some of the rich English had bought the islands, and in effect owned all the people on it.

Like the Lewis books, the island itself almost becomes a character. Although I have never been either to Lewis or Entry Island, from the books' description, if I ever did get there, I'd feel they were already familiar.

It was a wonderful read and kept my attention all the way through. I'll be looking out for Mr. May's next book too, I suspect.

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