This is my first Peter May book and I’m delighted to have found an “I want to read everything they’ve written” author.
His language has the satisfying complexity or a good wine. His plot is tightly coiled and intriguing. His characters have depth and authenticity. And it’s all narrated by Peter Forbes in a Scottish accent that would delight the ear if it was reading a shopping list aloud.
Memory is a strong theme in the novel, which opens with a first-person account of our main character returning to consciousness on a beach, soaked to the skin, wearing a life-jacket and without any memory of who he is or how he came to be on the beach. Peter May does a wonderful job of exploring how closely interwoven memory and identity are.He shows how our actions are driven by our sense of the kind of person we are. Not knowing the kind of person we are makes it hard to trust our own judgement.
The first part of the book centres around the main character’s attempt to discover the kind of man he is, or at least, the kind of man he used to be. It quickly becomes clear that our main character is not a straightforward man. He is living off the grid in a house that provides almost no evidence of who he is and why he is there. As he investigates himself, his unease about what he is going to find and his lack of knowledge about who he can trust, create a growing tension, verging on paranoia. Setting all this in the desolate beauty of the wind-blown, sparsely populated Isle of Harris adds to the sense of dislocation and isolation that the main character experiences.
If the whole novel had been like this, I would have been well pleased but Peter May is much more ambitious than that and cranks the book up a notch. He spins off a second strand to the story, centred around a teenage girl, who, after the apparent suicide of her father two years earlier, has become rebellious, restless and addicted to transforming herself, through tattoos and piercings, into someone far different from the cherished little girl her father left behind.
Clearly, the two storylines are related but Peter May keeps us guessing about the details as the young woman and the man without a memory work independently on sorting through the deceptions and the secret truths that connect them.
The pacing is perfect, the plot is credible and the ending did not disappoint. This is a fine, well written, mystery that captured my imagination with great language and a perfect pace but held it with realistic characters and a strong plot.
I enjoyed “Coffin Road” so much that my TBR shelf has grown by three as I’ve added Peter May’s “Lewis Trilogy” to it.
Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear Peter Forbes narrating “Coffin Road”