May, Peter - 'Entry Island'
Magdalen Islands, Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada.
Entry Island is an enclave of English-speakers amongst the predominantly French-speaking Magdalen Islands and Sime has been called to the murder scene from Montreal, a thousand kilometres away. Growing up bilingual as a fifth generation Scottish-Canadian in Quebec, his role in this murder investigation is to interview and interpret for his French-speaking police colleagues. The murdered man was a rich Magdalen Islander who owned half the local lobster fishery. His wife, a native of Entry Island itself, claims it was she who was attacked first that night and that the masked intruder then brutally stabbed her husband to death when he intervened. The local police are disbelieving. Entry Island doesn't get break-ins, no-one even locks their doors. When Sime begins to interview the neighbours it becomes clear that they too suspect the widow. Who would blame her? The man was a cheat and a liar. But there is a fisherman with a grudge; one who claims that the murder victim had "stolen" their father's lobster boat. But why then would he have targeted the wife? Sime is unnerved by his conviction that he knows the widow and this conviction is strengthened when she claims to recognise his family signet ring and says that it matches a pendant of her own. But when she looks for the pendant she cannot find it. Can Sime uncover the connection in the diaries of his Hebridean ancestor which his grandmother used to read to him and his sister when they were children?
ENTRY ISLAND is a standalone novel by Scottish-born crime writer Peter May, author of several popular series including "The Lewis Trilogy". It is made up of two interwoven stories: a contemporary murder mystery set in the remote Magdalen islands off the Canadian coast and the moving account of the lives of Hebridean crofters during the time of the nineteenth-century Highland Clearances. May currently lives in France. It therefore seems appropriate for him to choose as a contemporary protagonist - Inspector Sime Mackenzie - who straddles both the French-speaking Quebecois culture and his own Scottish-Gaelic heritage. We meet him still suffering the effects of the end of his marriage. Also part of the police team is Sime's ex-wife, Marie-Ange, and if Sime's constant insomnia is a tribute to the failure of their marriage so is his ex-wife's bitter fury. Insomnia, his isolated manner and an increasing obsession with the murder suspect - lead Sime's capabilities to be treated with growing distrust by his Sūreté colleagues. Eventually he is placed on sick leave but his feeling of familiarity with the woman at the heart of the murder case leads him to continue his own hunt for the murderer and draws him deeper into the story of his ancestor's diaries.
Whilst both story lines in ENTRY ISLAND are involving, it feels as though the labour of love on the part of the author is with the tragic "history of the Mackenzies". In fact Peter May has said that his decision to write the book stemmed from his research into the Clearances and his strong feelings about the brutal injustices suffered by the crofters; the history came first. There is suspense in the convincing and vivid contemporary murder story (although there did seem to be at least one loose end in this storyline) and, with Sime Mackenzie's ideal candidacy for "outsider" detective, I was left feeling that I would like to read more crime fiction with Sime as a lead character. But all in all it may be the historical story that leaves a deeper mark. For those who can take a touch of other-world in their crime fiction and in particular for those who enjoy a historical and social context - I have no hesitation in recommending ENTRY ISLAND as an exciting, absorbing and moving story.
Read another review of ENTRY ISLAND.
Lynn Harvey, England