Coffin Road – Peter May

This review was previously published on ShinyNewBooks.co.uk.

Product Details

If you had killed someone you would remember. Wouldn’t you?

In his latest novel, which it goes without saying will be absolutely huge, his legion of fans will be delighted to see Peter May return to the Outer Hebrides, the setting which made him a huge star with the Lewis Trilogy. However, this one is not, I’m afraid, a police procedural featuring Finn Macleod and Marsaili – but please don’t let that put you off. Coffin Road is just as gripping a novel as any of his other works, far more ambitious and with a wider scope than the previous Lewis novels. It’s a book which will eventually bring together three seemingly unconnected people…and see their lives put at risk.

It opens with a man waking on a beach on Harris, wearing a lifejacket, not knowing who he is or what he’s doing there. Investigations in what is his nearby home (he’s helped there by a concerned neighbour) reveal his name is Neal Maclean. Neighbours arrive who he’s seemingly invited for a drink – Jon and Sally – and Sally rapidly makes it clear that Neal and she are having an affair behind Jon’s back. They ask how the book is coming along – Neal was apparently writing a book about the Flannan Isles mystery, which saw three lighthouse keepers disappear without a trace in 1900. Feigning tiredness, Neal gets rid of his visitors, and checks his computer. There are indeed pages and chapter headings for a book – but absolutely no text. What is Neal really doing in Harris? Turning the house upside down, he finds a well-used map marking a nearby path called the Coffin Road. It is the only clue he has to why he is on Harris, and decides to investigate it, along with Sally. But I’m not going to reveal what they discover there…That night Neal is attacked in his house by a man with a knife who seems intent on killing him. However, a second intruder intervenes and saves his life, but both are gone before Neal can figure out who they are or what their respective agendas are. What exactly is Neal involved in that puts his life in danger?

He decides to hire a RIB – his own boat having been lost when he washed up on the shore at the start – to go out to the Flannan Isles, as according to Jon and Sally he had made a number of trips there. While there, he discovers a brutally murdered man in the chapel below the lighthouse, and, terrified he could have been responsible, leaves the Isles immediately. Unfortunately, some tourists arriving shortly after him see him leave in a hurry, and the boat owner knows Neal.

Given the job of investigating the Flannan Isles murder is DS George Gunn (who briefly appeared in The Black House.) Is the man he knows as Neal MacLean, who has been living on the island for the past 18 months, writing, and going back and forwards to the Flannan Isles regularly, a murderer? If not, why do both he and the murder victim have bee stings on their hands?

Simultaneously, down in Edinburgh, a 17-year-old, Karen Fleming, is lost and rebellious since her scientist father’s suicide two years earlier. But she is given solid evidence by her godfather that he faked his death – but why would an apparently doting father do that? So Karen leaves home, searching for answers that will hopefully lead her to him. Her journey takes her to London, Glasgow, and eventually the Highlands, putting her in danger. Is her father really alive? If so, why the cloak-and-dagger disappearance if he loved her as much as he claimed to?

This book takes us places we really don’t expect – into the realms of big business and big money, biology and huge research grants where the findings are expected to be what the company want them to be. There are spies and conspiracies, and people who will do anything – even kill – to keep anyone who knows too much quiet. It’s a murder investigation, and it’s  And, throughout, May’s love of the Outer Hebrides shines through – the weather, the sea, the flora and fauna. It makes for a gripping thriller, with a nail-biter of a climax that will guarantee you’re unable to put it down. This one’s definitely not to be missed, but that goes without saying – it is a Peter May, after all!

 

 

12 thoughts on “Coffin Road – Peter May

  1. I keep hearing such great things about this one! And I do love the idea of that setting, no doubt about that. I’m very glad it lives up to the promise of May’s other work.

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  2. It is a little bit different, but very topical about something that’s hugely important – I don’t want to get into spoiler territory though! I think he’s superb writing about the Outer Hebrides; he’s so knowledgeable about the trees, plants, geology – he’s obviously spent a long time there, probably even prior to writing the books. Even the way he describes the clouds moving…His books are an absolute gift to the Tourist Board, which is great, as it can be tough making a living there. A lot of houses in the Outer Hebrides are advertised in the estate agents here, and if you could work from home – and cope with the isolation – they’re so cheap. Great place to school your children too. I loved living on an island until I became a teenager, and then you’re bored – building dens aren’t fun anymore! It’s a lot more bearable now, with the internet – it’s made the world more democratic, for want of a better word, for teenagers in remote places.

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  3. I have ordered this book and it is on the way to me. Thanks so much for sharing your experience here! I’m really looking forward to reading about the Outer Hebrides again. Peter May can do so much with that setting.

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    • Can’t he! You can feel his love of the place. I’ve been to the Outer Hebrides once, to Barra (where they use the beach as an airstrip!), and I found it beautiful, if terribly bleak, but the beach on Harris he mentions at the start of this book – Luskentyre, I think it is – is amazing. Take a picture on a sunny day and you could convince people you’d been in the Caribbean! The Inner Hebrides, where I’m from, have plenty of trees, as they’re not battered by the winds. And they’re much more accessible – 40 minutes on a ferry to where my parents stay, as opposed to 5-6 hours. Do let me know what you think of this one!

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  4. Great review! I’ve heard nothing but good things about Peter May’s work and reading your review makes me want to go to the store to pick up a copy of one of this novels. Coffin Road is one of those already on my wishlist.

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    • I think the Lewis Trilogy – his first big success – is a more conventional police procedural trilogy – The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man, and The Chessmen. That’s probably where I’d start. I don’t think Coffin Road is quite as good, but it is a very different kind of book – ordinary man v. Big Business. I guess it depends what kind of book you prefer. He also has various other books, and at least one other series, set in China, I think. I’m going to try to get to them eventually, as I’ve nabbed them when they’re going cheap on Kindle! It must be wonderful to have all these ideas – and he isn’t particularly young, so this massive success has come later on in life – and all the sweeter for it, I’m sure! (I think that’s what life must have in store for me. Definitely!!)

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      • Thanks for the advice, I’m going to try and get a copy of The Lewis trilogy books first then. And I agree that not having success early in life by no means prevents any later on… I’m sure he worked hard enough for it; and having great ideas in the process helps a lot of course. 🙂

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    • Yes Guy, it just happens to be set on Harris. I think one of the local policemen popped up briefly in The Blackhouse, but apart from that it’s all new characters. I can imagine a lot of people disappointed, thinking it was a new Finn MacLeod, but nope, not yet anyway.

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  5. Kay featured you on the Book Bloggers Appreciation Week event, so excited to find another Mystery lover. This one sounds like a lot is going on. I enjoy finding out the connections of characters throughout a book. Your review definitely will have me pick this one up.

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