Books: The Lewis Man by Peter May, A Small Fortune by Rosie Dastgir
The Lewis Man (Quercus, £12.99) by Peter May
A Small Fortune (Quercus, £12.99) by Rosie Dastgir
You know – and this might be me going out on a bit of a limb – The Lewis Man, Peter May’s sequel to last year’s bestseller The Blackhouse is even more impressive than its predecessor. It features the same weather-beaten landscape on Lewis, one of Scotland’s western isles, and the same troubled, midlife-crisis policeman, Fin Macleod – who is now divorced and resigned from the force.
However, this novel packs a greater emotional punch thanks to the narrative of Tomrod Macdonald, who is the senile father of Marsaili, Fin’s childhood sweetheart.
Tomrod is put into full-time care at the start of the novel, just as a body is discovered in a peat bog on the island. A post-mortem examination identifies the corpse as a young male victim of a brutal murder committed in the 1950s – while a DNA sample reveals he is a close relative of Tomrod. But the old man had always claimed to have no family. As Fin looks for answers he finds more questions.
Detectives are often dogged by their pasts and defined by their surroundings: Morse by Oxford, Rebus by Edinburgh, Sherlock Holmes by Victorian London (before he started using an iPhone) – and Fin Macleod by Lewis.
For a small place Lewis comes with a lot of baggage: from its geography and weather to its economy and religion. It is an island where every shoulder has at least one chip on it. But how much longer will the importance of this sense of place prevail? Now that we all use Facebook, read the same iPad apps and watch the same Hollywood films, will it soon be the stuff of historical fiction alone?
Rosie Dastgir’s fine debut, A Small Fortune, is another book in which place and culture are paramount. Harris Anwar has moved to northern England to be close to relatives following a divorce. His religious identity, upbringing in Pakistan and family are all deeply important to him. But his teenage daughter, Alia, is westernised: what is Pak-istan to her other than a colourful place to go on holiday?
Dastgir, who was born in England but lives in Brooklyn, knows how to spin a yarn, with characters who leap off the page, and she goes some way towards answering the question of ident-ity. Because in the end we are how we choose to define ourselves.
I read Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses when it was released in paperback in 1992. By this time the Labour MP Keith Vaz had led a march in the Midlands calling for it to be banned, the Iranian fatwa was in place and the author was in hiding.
No single publisher dared to issue it, so it was released anonymously by ‘The Consortium’. It’s a book that I’m proud to say I still own. Now, 20 years later, the book is still banned in India, where what is believed to have been a fake threat of assassin-ation prevented Rushdie from
attending a literary festival in Rajasthan recently. Even an appearance by video-link was cancelled over fears protesters would storm the venue.
India is fast developing into a world superpower, so it needs to address the issue of true freedom of expression. The Satanic Verses is a brilliant book. What a tragedy that it is still overshadowed by the controversy that engulfed it.
And another thing…
Everyone who reads has a guilt pile: the books you feel you ought to read but haven’t got around to yet. Three titles sitting on top of my pile are Bleak House, Portnoy’s Complaint and The Talented Mister Ripley. Are they worth it – and what books haven’t you got round to yet? Twitter: @thomasquinn1000 or email: email@example.com.