February 2014

Peter May - Entry Island

"...great characterisation, extensive research and a well woven plot."

Sime Mackenzie is a Sergeant Enqueteur in the Surete in Montreal, a detective sergeant in English. As he is fluent in English and French he is attached to a new team who are investigating a murder in the Isles de la Madeleine, a French speaking area generally, but the murder has been committed on a solely English speaking island. It is a difficult assignment for Sime as his ex-wife is also on the team and relations are not good. In addition Sime is suffering badly from insomnia and is highly stressed and not functioning to his best ability.

When he meets the victim's wife he is convinced that he knows her but she does not know him. As the story advances other strange coincidences emerge. Parallel to the Canadian story we hear of another Sime Mackenzie living in Lewis in the Scottish Hebrides around the time of the Clearances. Powerful landlords forcibly removed the long established islanders from their simple houses in order to make money from sheep farming. Many of these unfortunate people were sent, in terrible conditions to the colonies, including Canada. The elder Sime's simple life and his encounters with the laird's daughter echo down the past and are felt in the present.

I was introduced to Peter May's writing with 'The Blackhouse' and I was completely hooked. I love his writing about Lewis in the present with its loving detail of the life and characters so I was a little cautious of this new book after the brilliant 'Lewis trilogy'. Thankfully, all fears were unfounded and quickly dispelled! In 'Entry Island', May extends his remit to cover the island around the time of the Clearances. I have always known about the horrific actions of the landlords at that time but the vivid descriptions of the acts and particularly of the emotions raised really brought it all to life for me.

The main story of course is about modern day Canada and the descendants of those islanders who left their home to start a new life. Again the character of the modern Sime is beautifully described as he struggles with his insomnia and unfinished business with his ex-wife. The strange atmosphere of the island and the secrets that are hidden there, interlaced with the tensions arising from working with his ex wife all add to the stress under which Sime is working. May cleverly hints and drops clues to the relationship between Sime and the chief suspect but it is only at the very end that we learn how important that is to solving the mystery. This was a very satisfying read including great characterisation, extensive research and a well woven plot.

Reviewed by: S.D.

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