Coffin Road by Peter May

Review published on January 26, 2016.

A cliché it may be, but I genuinely begrudged putting this down when I had to go and do other things. As is often the case with Peter May’s novels, there are two strands to this story and the narrative switches back and forth between them.

Firstly, there is Neal McLean who washes up on a beach on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, unable to remember who he is or how he got there but with a nagging sense that something terrible has happened. He quickly learns that he is a novelist who has been living on the island for 18 months while writing a book about an old mystery connected to one of the nearby islands, and that he is having an affair with a married woman, Sally Harrison, who lives in one of the cottages near his own.

As he tries to piece together his past and re-learn who he is, it becomes clear to him that, whoever he is and whatever his reason for being on Harris, he has been lying about it to those around him. This does nothing to alleviate his sense of unease.

Seventeen year old Karen is haunted by the suicide of her scientist father and wracked with guilt for her own behaviour before it. When she learns that her father might not be dead after all, she sets out to find him, unaware of the danger she is putting herself and others in. Slowly the two stories come together, with a very ‘edge of the seat’ climax.

Along the way there are many twists and turns and there were quite a few times when I thought I had it all worked out only to be proved wrong – something that May is very good at. The descriptions too, are something that those familiar with Peter May’s work will have come to expect, with much of the believability of the narrative being due to the attention to detail. May obviously knows the landscape well and he skilfully relays that knowledge to the reader in, at times, quite a poetic way.

The narrative switches between first person, present tense for those chapters involving the main character, Neal McLean to third person, past tense for the other chapters. This is [probably] not to everybody’s taste but I didn’t find it particularly noticeable after a while. Finally, it is worth mentioning that the plot also deals with the subject of declining bee population, bee colony collapse and the use of neonicotinoids. This aspect of the story is well researched and quite interesting in its own right. I really can’t recommend this one enough.

Mary Moore

Coffin Road by Peter May
Quercus hbk Jan 2016

A Real Reader review

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