Fin Macleod has had what must be the ugliest set of life experiences imaginable. In the first chapter we discover his 8 year old son has just died, and from then onwards his sorrows past and present mount and mount to the point of incredulity. The denouement forces us to new heights of trauma but by that stage I was too jaded by disaster to be surprised by anything! It makes the past of your average misanthropic detective look like a walk in the park. But although May does a good job of hinting at the rage and discomfort that Macleod subsequently represses, you never see enough of the impact of all this emotional devastation to make it real. He is unlikeable, which I think is pretty standard for crime protagonists these days, but unlikeable in a very melodramatic way.
Thankfully May hits some sound and subtle thematic notes in spite of the plot: masculinity and community identity being the two most constant. The interactions of the male characters are fascinating - the interplay of power, jealousy and fear in a group of teenage boys is expecially compelling. As an adult, Fin is constantly appraising and determining his masculine status in a group; and working out the actions and signals needed to confirm that status. The identity of the community and of the 'Lewis man', built around the dominating landscape of the island and the ritual of the guga hunt, is well developed too. It would be better for me to recommend this as a book about the men of the isle of Lewis with an incidental crime in it, rather than as a crime novel set on Lewis. That's the reason I will be reading the next in the series (called, rather tidily, The Lewis Man) and avidly discussing this instalment with grandad at the weekend.