Tag Archives: Outer Hebrides

EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY…. by Linda Gillard (Transita 2005)

emotionA continuation of my series featuring novels that are set on Islands in Scotland.  In my last 5 blogs I introduced novels of murder, mystery and suspense  and  I have discussed how the barren landscape, isolation, unpredictable weather and insider/outsider mentality can be used by the authors to heighten the suspense in these novels.  In my next two entries I will introduce novels with themes involving mental health issues and how the Islands (especially the isolation) motivate the characters and contribute to the plot.

The primary character in “Emotional Geology” is a woman named Rose. She has had at least one suicide attempt, she has been institutionalized, and she has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She is also obsessed with her ex-lover despite having had no contact with him for five years.  She makes the decision to buy a house on a particularly isolated area on the Isle of North Uist.  Her plan is to avoid people, enjoy nature, and get to work on her beloved art. She has hopes that she will be able to reduce her medications in order to regain some of her creativity.

She writes in a letter to her daughter  “the locals have been kindness itself..” p.5 and one particular kind  local may be a whole different sort of problem…or not.  Culum is a single school teacher with his own set of baggage.

It is definitely not all clear sailing.

Rose’s story is told straight — no apologizing. A worthy read.

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Filed under book review, book reviews, General fiction, Scotland, Scottish Island Fiction

WRITTEN IN BONE……..by Simon Beckett (2007)

written in boneOnce again the topic of my blog will be contemporary fiction set on Scottish Islands with an emphasis on murder mysteries and thrillers.  The setting for this novel is the fictional island of Runa in the very real collection of Islands that make up the Outer Hebrides. I’m Okay with this.  I think if you’re going to bring murder and mayhem to a small population it is better if it’s fictional; Miss Marple’s St.Mary Mead and Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove come to my mind. “Written in Bone” is the second book in a series featuring forensic anthropologist David Hunter and written by Simon Beckett. Apparently, Mr Beckett became interested in this occupation when he visited The University of Tennessee anthropological Research Facility (nicknamed the Body Farm) as a journalist in 2002.  The author and his character are both Englishmen. I don’t usually say this but I don’t think it matters if you read this series in order.  The character of David Hunter has been grieving his late daughter and wife for many years and this affects his job, his friendships, and his commitments — I think that is enough to know to dive into the second novel—but by all means read the first.

David is sent to Runa to check out a suspicious death that many of the locals are calling “spontaneous combustion” While he is on the Island the weather gets progressively worse until the island loses all communication with the outside world….Oh yeah, and there IS a killer in their midst.

This is not a cozy. I feel I must stress that because a lady on my library web sight was very (ahem) displeased with these books (well the first one anyway) because of the gory content.  What can I say — he studies dead bodies to determine the when, how, why and where of death as much as possible. And he depends on bugs almost as much as Gil Grissom (CSI TV show).

In an earlier blog I discussed how the remoteness of Scottish Islands could add suspense to a novel and I think this book is a good example of that theory.

The other novels in this series;

#1. The chemistry of Death (2006) Delacorte Press

#3. Whispers of the Dead (2009) Delacorte Press

#4. The Calling of the Grave (2010) London Bantam

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THE BLACK HOUSE …….by Peter May (2011)

  • black houselewis manchess menTHE LEWIS MAN …. By Peter May (2012)
  • THE CHESS MEN….  By Peter May (2013)

THE LEWIS TRILOGY: three novels set against the backdrop of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

I’ve read all three of these novels and I just love them – all three of them – with no particular favourite. There are two main characters in “The Lewis Trilogy”: first there is a detective named Fin Macleod , and then there is the Island of Lewis itself.

 Fin Macleod is a native son, born on the Island where he spent the first eighteen years of his life before he transferred to the mainland of Scotland for university and eventually to join the police force.  As the first novel opens, almost twenty years after his departure, he is working as a detective in Edinburgh and coping with a ruined marriage and the grief and anger associated with his son’s hit and run death. He is sent to Lewis to investigate a murder that is strikingly similar to an Edinburgh murder; his Island knowledge and command of the Gaelic are considered to be an advantage. What follows is an engaging novel with an interesting whodunnit and a fascinating insight into growing up in a remote and isolated environment. The novel expertly moves between the present murder and the life of Fin as he was coming of age  He is both an insider and an outsider. The moody, unpredictable atmosphere is aided by the unsettled climate that in turn mirrors Fin’s unsettled soul.

The second novel in the series (The Lewis Man) still features Fin but it is more focused on another character who, in the present, is battling with Alzheimer’s disease. It is this character’s past that makes up the majority of his story. And a bog body!!! Bog bodies can be 2000 years old or very recent since the temperature, acidity and lack of oxygen in the bogs acts as a preservative. I have talked, in previous blogs, about my fascination with bog bodies and I recommend the novels of Erin Hart to anyone who shares this interest. (A little aside but now back to “The Lewis Man” ) I cannot stress enough how the description of the Island, its inhabitants, and its culture enrich this novel.

The third novel in the series is called “The Chess  Men” ; a reference to the famous medieval chess pieces discovered in Lewis in 1831, and featured in this novel. The novel also discusses the tragedy of the sinking of the HMS Iolaire on January 01,1919 which is a horrific moment in Lewis history.  The ship was carrying 280 passengers, mostly soldiers returning from WWI , when she hit a rock within view of Stornoway Harbour.  At least 205 of the 280 aboard perished.  It is somehow beyond sad that these soldiers should survive the war and die within view of their home. A young Fin is educated about this tragedy and learns how actions taken on that night could affect  life even 60 years later. This is the novel which probably illustrates the unpredictable nature of the Lewis weather the most and serves as a metaphor for life on the Isle of Lewis.

Did you know……?

Donald Trump is a son of a …..no not that….he is the son of a Lewis woman. His mother, Mary MacLeod was born just outside the capital city of Stornoway. Just a little fact you may need in a trivia contest.

I REALLY hope Peter May decides to make this trilogy a quartet (look to Ann Cleeves for inspiration ).

In conclusion,three novels that capture the atmosphere and details (lots of details) of the culture and atmosphere of the Isle of Lewis.  Lewis is the most northerly island (Part of Harris and Lewis) in the outer Hebrides. Known for its deeply religious inhabitants  (Sunday it closes down)  and for a deep adherence to the Gaelic language and traditions.

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