As was probably the case for a great number of Rap Sheet readers, my introduction to Peter May’s crime fiction came with the U.S. release, in 2012, of The Blackhouse, the initial installment in what would eventually become his Lewis Trilogy, set on Scotland’s rugged Outer Hebrides archipelago. I’ve since followed his novels quite closely, choosing The Blackhouse (in 2012) and its first sequel, The Lewis Man (in 2014), as favorite novels of their respective release years in the States, and lauding his standalone Runaway earlier in 2016.
Now comes Coffin Road (Quercus), another Hebrides-backdropped suspense yarn, its story building around a 30-something man who washes up on an Isle of Lewis beach—with no idea of who he is or where he belongs. In short order, this protagonist discovers he’s been bedding his neighbor’s wife, has an interest in a mysterious colony of bees, and might well be a murderer. You can read
more about Coffin Road in my latest Kirkus Reviews column, which is dominated by an interview I conducted recently with Scottish author May.
What often happens when I engage novelists in e-mail Q&As is that I draw more information from them than I can possibly fit into my regular Kirkus column. That was again the case with Peter May. So below, I am embedding the sections of our exchange that I had to leave out. It’s probably best to read the longer Kirkus piece first, then dash back here to learn about what else we discussed.
J. Kingston Pierce: This is a complicated story. Did you have trouble making all of the pieces fit
Peter May: In a word, yes! It was probably one of the most complex and difficult storylines I have ever attempted. My process is that after researching and developing characters and an idea, I write a detailed story synopsis. That’s when I work out all the labyrinthine details. Halfway through my synopsis of Coffin Road I ran into a dead end. I knew where I wanted it to go, but had no idea how to get it there. I went through 24 hours of hell thinking that I was going to have to abandon the whole thing. Until suddenly, something clicked in my mind and, thankfully, the path to the denouement became clear.
JKP: You’ve spent much time in the Outer Hebrides over the years. Yet I understand that during your work on Coffin Road, you rented a cottage on the beach at Luskentyre, which is where the opening
action in this novel takes place. How long did you stay on Harris, and what new things did you learn about the place while you were there?
PM: I have been to Harris many times over the years. I returned specifically to research the book in March 2015. I took the cottage (which became the model for the one in the book) for a week, during which time the worst imaginable weather assaulted us on every front—snow, sleet, hail, gale-force winds, and subzero temperatures. But because the constant wind moves the weather fronts through so quickly, sunshine is never far away, so to be down on the beach like that with a panoramic view from the cottage, was like being witness to God’s own light show. It was spectacular, and I learned that the Hebridean winter can be just as extraordinary as the summer.
JKP: Like your Lewis Trilogy, Coffin Road takes place in the Outer Hebrides. It doesn’t feature Fin Macleod, but the plot does bring back Detective Sergeant George Gunn (last seen in The Chessmen), who’s ventured out to Eilean Mòr to investigate a murder. Can we expect to see more of Gunn in your future novels, or was this a one-off?
PM: I needed a local cop for my story in Coffin Road, and since I already had a custom-made one from the Lewis Trilogy I thought, why create another? Whether or not he makes any further appearances remains to be