Cover image of "The Blackhorse," a moody Scottish detective novel

The black-and-white cover foretells a grim tale set in the bleak, wind-swept reaches of the Outer Hebrides Islands, where Scotland reaches farthest west into the North Atlantic. The Black House by Peter May is the first of three moody Scottish detective novels — the Lewis Trilogy — that unfold on the tradition-bound Isle of Lewis.

The action gets off to a fast start as Edinburgh detective and Lewis native Finlay (Fin) Macleod is assigned to assist the police on a grisly murder case on the island that bears suspicious similarities to one that he’s investigated in the Scottish capital. An unpopular local man — the town bully — has been discovered hanging by the neck and disemboweled in a boat shed on the island’s coast. The murdered man’s identity — he tormented Fin and his pals when growing up — quickly catches up the troubled detective in an unwelcome return to the traumas of his childhood. Having escaped from the island to attend Edinburgh University, Fin is unhappy from the moment he is assigned the case by the Scottish police establishment.

The Blackhouse (Lewis Trilogy #1) by Peter May (2013) 403 pages ★★★★☆

Complex relationships in this moody Scottish detective novel

The complex relationships among the people of Lewis give rise to a rich range of conflict as Fin delves into this puzzling murder mystery. He finds himself at odds with the local constabulary, who has not asked for his assistance, and with the childhood friends he encounters along the way. At the root of the story is a deep, long-suppressed secret in Fin’s past. As it unravels in the course of the story, the identity of the killer comes into sharper focus.

The Blackhouse is dark, moody, and deeply troubling in its bleak assessment of the human potential for violence. Suspense builds steadily to a shattering conclusion. It’s hard to imagine what the next two books in the trilogy might have in store for us.

For additional reading

This is one of the many Mysteries and thrillers set in Scotland that I’ve reviewed here.

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