I read Extraordinary People by Peter May, the first in what’s called the “Enzo series” during a May reading binge. Whether it was because I simply adored his Lewis books, Entry Island and Coffin Road and expected more of the same and therefore wasn’t thrilled with the change of direction and tone or whether it was because this book featuring the forensic expert, the Scotsman Enzo was a bit Dan Brown-lite, I’m not sure. Needlesstosay, I didn’t find it extraordinary, but nor was it ordinary either. It was somewhere in the middle. Good without being great, which is fine.
The novel introduces readers to middle-aged Enzo who gave up his life and first wife and daughter in Scotland to follow his lover and heart to France many years earlier. Reduced to teaching biology in Toulouse and dealing with the anger of the daughter from which he’s alienated and basking in the love of his second and younger daughter with his now dead lover, Enzo is very affable and clearly clever.
When an old journalist acquaintance basically dares him to crack a cold case involving the disappearance of a famous person, Enzo is up for the challenge. What he doesn’t anticipate is a treasure hunt replete with clues, sometimes a map, and grisly body parts which all point to the man they’re searching for being dead, but nothing to reveal the murderer.
It’s only when Enzo (and the group he’s gathered around him), using brawn and brains starts to get close to the killer’s identity, that his own life and that of those he loves is placed in danger. The dare is no longer a game, but deadly serious…
Well written, well paced, I am not sure why this novel didn’t resonate like the others. I think the hunt drags a bit, some of the characters are two-dimensional and some of the secondary characters and their motives detract from the prime narrative.
I did find I was turning pages and wanting to know what happened and can easily rate the book 3.5 stars, but I am not sure I care enough about Enzo or his adventures to embark on another one. But I still really rate Peter May and I know other people have simply relished this book and the series.
Tags: Coffin Road, cold case, Entry Island, Enzo, Extraordinary People, families, France, Lewis Trilogy, murder, Paris, Peter May, Scotland, Toulouse, treasure hunt
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Isn’t it strange how, when you discover an author whose work you adore you immediately reach for anything else they’ve written. But, if you’d picked up a different one to the first you selected, there is a chance you may never have read another they wrote… has that happened to you? Am I making sense? You see, this is what has happened to me with the uber talented writer, Peter May.
Fortunately, the very first book of his I read was The Black House, book one of the marvellous Lewis Trilogy. I followed those three books up with Coffin Road and Entry Island and was stunned by the breadth of this man’s talent, his knack for weaving complex but credible plots, the poetry of his prose and his fascinating characters. Then, I read Extraordinary People, book one in the Enzo series (yet to be reviewed). I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much, but once I accepted it was very different to the others and was sort of a Dan Brown lite, and pure escapism, I managed to go with the flow. Still, I won’t read another in that series. So, I tried to The Firemaker, the first book in what’s known as his China series. And here’s where how I opened this review comes into play.
If this had been the first of Peter May’s books I’d read, I doubt I would ever have picked up another. This was such a disappointment at so many levels. I know it’s an earlier book, and it’s setting is different – and I enjoyed that very much having spent some time in Beijing, but it’s so full of stereotypes, clichés, a tendency to tell instead of showing, and pure didactics, I really struggled. To make matters worse, I simply loathed the lead female character and found most of what she did and said didn’t gel with her life experience, qualifications or the romance that blossomed… who could love this xenophobic silly bitch? The male lead, though full of contradictions, was at least likeable and I wanted to scream at him to run a mile from this intolerant, gabby woman who had no respect for another culture or other people.
The plot is also convoluted and it’s difficult to suspend your disbelief. The basic story (without spoilers) revolves around an American female pathologist, Margaret someone (she’s so awful, I don’t want to remember her) taking up a short-term position at a Chinese university in order to escape a turgid relationship and period in her life. After an inauspicious (and frankly ridiculous) start, she is asked to aid in the investigation of a murder. You see, her speciality is burns victims and it turns out the police have found the badly burnt corpse of a prominent Chinese businessman and government official. When Margaret gets embroiled in not only the investigation but with a rather sinister American figure and the body-count grows, both she and the newly-promoted and popular Inspector Li realise they’ve stumbled into something bigger than they ever imagined, something that raises the stakes and the danger levels high.
The plot sounds great, but it’s encumbered by all the things I mentioned above. Even the romance is squirm-worthy as are the sex scenes. Maybe it’s just me, because other people loved it and May IS a good writer, despite what I’ve said. But, I am SO glad I didn’t read this first, as I would have missed out on the pleasure of his other sublime novels. Needlesstosay, I won’t be reading the rest of this series, even though reviews suggest it gets better…
Tags: China, cliches, Coffin Road, communism, conspiracy, Entry Island, female characters, genetics, murder, Peter May, stereotypes, The Firemaker, The Lewis Trilogy
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Was it only a couple of reviews ago I was praising this man’s talents to the hilt and congratulating myself for discovering him and the books he’s written that I haven’t yet read? Yes. It was. Now, I want to curse him… Why, you ask? Because the man is such a damn, amazing talent, I cannot put his books down once I start them and therefore, I am a sleep deprived, Nigel-No- Friends bibliophile – or maybe that should be a May-o-phile? Because I am. I’m an unabashed fan of this man’s stories.
Coffin Road, the fourth book of May’s I’ve read is a stand-alone novel and is exceptional. Set in Scotland, it takes the reader to the northernmost parts, the wind-lashed and sea-soaked dangerous isles that ring the Outer Hebrides, to the main islands and Edinburgh and Glasgow as well.
The novel opens with a man penning a letter before it switches to another scene where a man is washed up, all but drowned on a beach. Wearing a life-jacket, battered and bruised, he’s no recollection of who he is or what he’s doing there. It’s only that others seem to know who he is: his neighbour, his lover and his dog. With partial memories and able to easily perform certain complex tasks and skills, the man, who discovers his name is Neal, is ambivalent about finding out who he is or was; that’s because, somewhere, in the deepest recesses of his memory, he knows he’s done something terrible…
The story is then about this man’s efforts to uncover who he is and what he discovers. Written in the first person, you feel his pain, uncertainty and the small triumphs and fears he experiences, especially as he draws closer to the truth and the potential notion that he is a monster…
In the meantime, another narrative unfolds and we’re taken into the life of a rebellious teen who, two years earlier, lost her father in awful circumstances and is struggling with both his death and her mother’s efforts to continue with life.
The world May creates is bitterly real, the characters driven, flawed and completely magnificent. The plot, which in other hands might err on being fanciful, is suspenseful, clever and absolutely gripping. I couldn’t put the darn book down – it was with me at breakfast, lunch and then in the wee hours until I finished it. Then, like any good book, I was disappointed I had! But, of course, I have more May’s to read and many more sleepless nights to follow.
Ah, what’s sleep for anyway? I can do that when I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil…
Onto my next May…
Tags: Coffin Road, islands, memory, murder, Peter May, science, Scotland
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The Black House, the first book in the Lewis Trilogy by Peter May is simply sensational. Set on one of the northernmost islands in the Outer Hebrides, it tells the tale of Fin McLeod, a Lewis native who has been living in Edinburgh for the past 18 years. A Detective Inspector, Fin is sent to Lewis to investigate the murder of a man who, it turns out, went to school with Fin and was generally regarded as no-good thug. While Fin’s knowledge of Gaelic was considered when sending him north, it doesn’t endear him to the man in charge of the case nor to some of those he once called friends. 18 years is a long time between drinks and Fin left Lewis the way he has returned, with secrets in his heart and ghosts to lay to rest. But when one of the ghosts returns to haunt and harass him, Fin finds it not just those keeping his secret he has to protect, he has to watch his own back as well.
Beautifully told and masterfully plotted, this is poetic and character-driven writing at its best. May places you right there in wind-swept, ruggedly beautiful Lewis, amidst the machair and under the grey skies pierced by sunlight. Segueing between first and third person, past and present, Fin’s personal story from child to adult and that of the current investigation begin to intersect and become clear, all of which builds to an utterly breath-taking and simply stunning climax.
I put this one down so reluctantly and quickly picked up the next book in the series. I am so happy I discovered May because he has so many books to his name, and now I have a new author in whose work I can lose myself.
A sublime read.
Tags: childhood, faith, family, Lewis, loyalty, murder, nostalgia, Outer Hebrides, Peter May, Scotland, The Black House
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