The Lewis Man by Peter May

The Lewis Man

Peter May

Having left behind his adult life in Edinburgh–including his wife and his career in the police force–the former Detective Inspector is intent on repairing past relationships and restoring his parents’ derelict cottage. His plans are interrupted when an unidentified corpse is recovered from a Lewis peat bog.

The only clue to its identity is a DNA match to a local farmer, the now-senile Tormod Macdonald–the father of Fin’s childhood sweetheart, Marsaili–a man who has claimed throughout his life to be an only child, practically an orphan.


The Lewis Man is the second book in the Lewis Trilogy which continues the story of Fin Macleod and his return to his native home on Lewis. Newly divorced, Fin has also left the police force and has decided to renovate his childhood home which hasn’t been lived in since his parents died when he was young. However, Fin’s plans are soon interrupted when he is drawn into the mystery surrounding the discovery of the mummified body of a young man in a peat bog. Believing the body may have been there for centuries, the islanders are shocked when the presence of an Elvis tattoo and a reference to Heartbreak Hotel reveals the man had to have died in the 1950s. Things get even more complicated when forensics reveal the man was murdered and DNA tests show a familial connection to Tormod MacDonald.

Tormod MacDonald, the elderly father of Fin’s childhood sweetheart, Marsaili, is suffering from dementia which makes it difficult to glean information about his past. The narrative of the story is split between Fin’s investigations and Tormod’s thoughts as he fights to distinguish between the past and the present. However, Tormod’s past is slowly revealed through his jumbled memories and painful secrets are eventually revealed which will have consequences for Tormod’s family. The chapters dedicated to Tormod are sensitively handled but there is a real sense of frustration as his past is not revealed in linear fashion. Like Tormod’s memories, the story feels rather jumbled and it requires patience on the part of the reader.

Fin’s investigation leads him to other islands in the Hebrides, some of them even more remote, as he embarks on a genealogical journey to piece Tormod’s life together. As part of that, he meets Bill Lawson, a real life individual, who founded a company which traces the extensive lineage of the families in the Hebrides and descendants living in other parts of the world. The project is an impressive one and you can find out more information at Hebrides People. The story also touches upon a scheme whereby orphans were uprooted from children’s homes on the mainland and relocated to the islands to work on crofts with families who predominantly spoke Gaelic.

The only part of the story which it didn’t feel right to me was the introduction of the gangland boss in Edinburgh who is part of Tormod’s past and has a grudge to settle. It’s a strange thing to say since it forms part of the major storyline but I just wish it had gone in a different direction.