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A Silent Death by Peter May

I have adored many of Peter May’s books, especially his Lewis trilogy where his descriptions of place and character are utterly transportative. This novel, A Silent Death, is similar in that the primary characters – the taciturn and blunt-to-a-fault, Scottish cop, John McKenzie and Spanish police officer, Cristina – are totally believable and wholly developed people for whom you root. Likewise, the wonderful Spanish setting is easy to imagine – the heat, the architecture, the rolling hills and coastline are realistically drawn. 

It is in this setting that McKenzie, a man whose marriage has disintegrated and who has just quit his former job to move into a new one, is brought back to work early to escort a British criminal expatriate from Spain. Fluent in a few languages and well-educated, McKenzie doesn’t suffer fools nor win many friends, but it’s his skills that see him deployed in what he thinks is a job that is basically beneath his considerable talents. But when he arrives in Spain to find his prisoner has escaped and has not only committed a string of murders but threatened death to many more, he understands what he thought would be an easy task is a hell of a lot more complicated. Add to that cultural difference and personality clashes, and the stage is set for an intense search and a race to prevent more murders. 

In many ways, the plot takes second place to the characters and their personal journeys. This doesn’t make it weak or uninteresting – it is strong and keeps you riveted. But it does make it a novel about the way people behave in a crisis or interact in normal and extreme situations and how their actions and choices define them (thinking about that, it seems so pertinent for what the world is going through now as Covid-19 has us in its grip. How we behave when the chips are down is what defines us as humans. It’s easy, after all, to be fabulous when things go well). Both McKenzie and Cristina and the people around them, particularly Cristina’s deaf and blind aunt, are extraordinary in their very ordinariness and this makes them eminently relatable. We care about them, their relationships, and what the outcome of the crisis in which they’re unwittingly embroiled will be.

An excellent read.

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