June 2019


Two years ago, I made a virtual visit to Shetland using Google Maps after watching a television version of Ann Cleves’s book, Dead Water.

This time, my virtual visit is to the Isle of Lewis. Lewis is far closer to the Scottish mainland than Shetland, but my overall impression was the same: wind, salt water, and weather.

Butt of Lewis lighthouse, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

 

The reason for my virtual visit to the Western Isles is the book The Blackhouse by Peter May. I listened to it on Audible, and am now onto the next book, The Lewis Man.

In the book, Peter May writes so vividly that you all but cringe because of the drops of brine from The Minch shot into your face by the wind. My only connection to this part of the world is remembering my dad reminiscing about when we lived in England and he, like Mrs. Bale on the television show As Time Goes By, listened to the shipping forecast. My dad’s recollection of the information about the Scottish Isles was “gale force winds.”

The Blackhouse is a character-driven story. Everything hinges on Detective Inspector Fin Macleod’s background as he comes back to the Isle of Lewis to look into a murder with similar details to one he’s investigating in Edinburgh. In the reviews on Goodreads, this focus on character seems to be a love it or hate it factor. Some reviewers strenuously object to the focus on the importance of character rather than puzzle, but the book still has a solid 4-star (out of five) rating. As I’ve bought the next Audible book in the series, I can say that I enjoyed Peter May’s method of telling the story.

May’s story echoes historic events on the island. In my Google Maps drive around the island, I came to a beach I’d seen mentioned on road signs. Near the beach stands a memorial to a group of fishermen who were lost at sea.

A significant theme in the book is the culture of the island and the lore of the guga hunters, “guga” being the local name for the chicks of a seabird otherwise known as the gannet. May’s description matches the scenes in this video, but he doesn’t dwell on the “acquired taste” for the guga.

For my virtual travel, the combination of reading May’s story, my expedition via Google Maps, plus the guga video and article, provide an excellent (and passportless) outing to the Scottish Isles, with no jet lag.

Tickets, please!

In another century, our family lived in Munich, Germany. One day, while I was riding the strassenbahn downtown, my mind wandered and this story presented itself. That’s the nice thing about riding the strassenbahn, you don’t have to pay attention to the driving. I don’t come up with as many stories now that I have to drive myself everywhere.

Just as a note, any whiff of contemporary politics is coincidental. I wrote this in Munich and we left there in 1992. I can’t remember what was going on in the German political scene at the time.

 

Karlheinz has suffered a series of unfortunate events in his life. He wants to recover, if only to exact revenge, and concocts a unique business plan. Will he succeed in reinventing himself as a successful entrepreneur? Or will the headlines get him again?

 

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