According to Goodreads and my own somewhat-dilapidated memory, I’ve never read any books by France-based Scottish-born author Peter May. This surprised me as he has three series under his belt, a number of standalone novels and has been involved in writing for television in the UK.
Crime is obviously his passion and apparently, when working on a virtual reality-themed novel, he spent a year working as a private detective in Second Life.
His latest novel, Coffin Road came as a bit of a surprise as it grabbed me from the get-go.Coffin Road
by Peter May
Published by Hachette Australia, Quercus
on January 12th 2016
Source: Hachette Australia
A man is washed up on a deserted beach on the Hebridean Isle of Harris, barely alive and borderline hypothermic. He has no idea who he is or how he got there. The only clue to his identity is a map tracing a track called the Coffin Road. He does not know where it will lead him, but filled with dread, fear and uncertainty he knows he must follow it.
A detective crosses rough Atlantic seas to a remote rock twenty miles west of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. With a sense of foreboding he steps ashore where three lighthouse keepers disappeared more than a century before - a mystery that remains unsolved. But now there is a new mystery - a man found bludgeoned to death on that same rock, and DS George Gunn must find out who did it and why.
A teenage girl lies in her Edinburgh bedroom, desperate to discover the truth about her father's death. Two years after the discovery of the pioneering scientist's suicide note, Karen Fleming still cannot accept that he would wilfully abandon her. And the more she discovers about the nature of his research, the more she suspects that others were behind his disappearance.
I don’t think I’m sharing any spoilers by mentioning that the novel touches on the work of large pharmaceutical / drug companies and agro / biochemicals and stuff. My eyes tend to glaze over when it comes to conspiracy theories and that coupled with detailed information about bees could have sent me running for the hills.
However… May had pulled me in with the book’s opening and I turned page after page until I finished it in a night.
I particularly liked the man who washed up on the beach with no memory. A man who apparently called himself Neal but who—as he sets about rediscovering his life—now realises he was a fraud. And perhaps worse. Neal’s our main narrator and perhaps that’s why I identified most with him. I’m not sure of the scientific veracity of Neal’s memory loss as described in the novel (as dissociative amnesia), but it was interesting that he remembered how to do many things without knowing how he knew how to do them. If that makes sense.
Neal’s chapters are written in first person, but our other two leads (DS Gunn and Karen) are written in third person. I didn’t get much of a sense of Gunn, but he’s really only a means to an end, whereas we spend some time with Karen who’s struggling with her father’s suicide. The Karen / Neal storylines take a while to converge and just when we think we know the connection, May cleverly redirects our attention.
The novel’s well written and fast-paced and there are quite a few twists and turns to navigate along the way. (Like the choppy unpredictable waters the characters traverse via boat!)
This was an enjoyable first outing with Peter May and lovers of crime fiction and suspense novels should most certainly enjoy his latest offering.
Coffin Road by Peter May is published in Australia by Hachette.