Book review of Peter May’s Entry Island…

(Peter May, Entry Island, Quercus, 2014, 978-1-62365-663-8)

Because I’m half-Irish by ancestry, I once tried to learn Gaelic. I failed. So it was interesting to learn in this novel that speakers of Irish and Scotch Gaelic can understand each other, but, thinking about that some more, I guess it’s like when I spoke Spanish in Italy and got along fine.

This is a small point about the huge panorama of this novel. It’s a tour through history as Sime (pronounced “sheem”) MacKenzie, a homicide detective, tries to figure out how he already knows Kirsty Cowell, a murder suspect. That’s one mystery. The other is about who killed Kirsty’s husband.

Being half-Irish, I also knew about the Irish potato famines (I seem to remember there were several), but again I had no idea The Famine had affected parts of Scotland too. And the bad history between English lords and their Irish tenants had its parallel with the English lairds and their Scottish tenants. You can learn history from reading fiction much more than you can watching Hollywood destroy it on the silver screen (after I saw The Gladiator, I had to come home and check to make sure I wasn’t going senile—and that movie won an Academy Award?).

Maybe because of these relationships between Irish and Scottish history, I found the mostly predictable plot still gripping. Sime’s ancestor’s history, told via the latter’s diary entries, is the short part and the most interesting until the Postscript (it should have been called an epilogue) that shattered most of my admiration for the ancestor. Maybe I should have said two plots, as the longer part of the novel describes Sime’s struggles to solve a murder case while carrying the mental baggage of a failed marriage, insomnia, and the loneliness he feels as a Scotsman in French Canada, the last similar to his ancestor’s troubles in the New World.

The solution to the homicide was too predictable given the historical clues, and maybe even without them if the reader mistakenly avoids those diary entries. May’s writing isn’t minimalist either. He leaves no room for reader participation in his descriptive narrative, and I found myself skipping the onerous verbosity. Thankfully his ancestor is more minimalist in his writing of the diary entries. And some of the description is curdled and barely understandable. For example, consider the following metaphor: “…rain that drove through its [the flashlight’s] beam like warp speed on Star Trek.” Huh? Warp speed doesn’t drive through anything. I would have said “…rain that traveled warp speed through its beam,” but that’s still assuming a reference to Star Trek belongs in a mystery story with so much historical background. There are many strange and butchered metaphors like this one.

All that said, I still enjoyed this novel, enough that I might check out those in May’s Lewis trilogy, where presumably Lewis refers to the Isle of Lewis that was the birthplace of Sime’s ancestor. The author is a new one for me. I find him a lot more interesting than most authors in the Hatchette Group’s books (they distribute this book in the U.S.) At least May serves some meat with his potatoes.

***

The Midas Bomb (Second Edition). With a plot motivated by signs of the impending financial collapse of 2007-2008, Ponzi plots, and international terrorism, this first novel in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series” is as current today as it was back then. The story connects an unscrupulous hedge fund CEO with two Manhattan murders and terrorist attacks. The two detectives team up for the first time. Connecting the two murders undercovers the larger conspiracy. Available in ebook format from Amazon and Smashwords and paper format from Amazon, this novel starts off the series with a bang. Good summer reading!

In libris libertas!

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