Although an accomplished all-rounder, 64-year-old Peter May made his name in television “earning 1,000 TV credits”. The Scotsman, now living in France, has returned to his first love, he says, writing this crime novel set in the wind-swept Hebrides and his small-screen fingerprints are all over the work.
The story is slight – like a two-hour Sunday night special – well-paced, intriguing and dominated, in theme and setting, by the climate. The harsh seas, the lonely islands, the rough, tough nature and the capricious weather provide not only the backdrop for this mystery but its context and much of the texture.
The story starts with a common trope. A man is washed up on a beach. We don’t know who he is and, more importantly to the story, he doesn’t either. He has lost just enough of his memory to make his ignorance intriguing but not so much that it becomes impractical.
On another lonely island, a body, awaiting discovery. Are the amnesiac and the murder victim connected?
Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, a teenage girl is replacing the grief over the suicide of her father with a string of rebellions but she finds cause and solace picking at the threads of his unresolved demise.
These strands, naturally and evenly, come together in a satisfactory fashion. May organises his subplots well and presents them with a journalist’s eye for detail bringing the harsh islands, and their wind-blown secrets, vividly to life.
Coffin Road by Peter May, Quercus , £18.99