When a man washes ashore the Isle of Harris and a fellow islander asks what happened, he remembers and recognizes nothing. His only clue is a map in his pocket with a highlighted line up the island’s Coffin Road.
His neighbors know him as Neal Maclean, an author who is writing a book about the mysterious 1900 disappearance of three lighthouse keepers on one of the Flannan Islands. In conversations, Neal plays along, reluctant to admit he knows nothing and hoping his memory will soon return.
It isn’t easy to pretend, however, and after searching through his house, looking for anything to jog his memory, he comes up short. And it isn’t long before his life is in obvious danger. What is up on Coffin Road and what does it have to do with Neal?
In a fast-moving atmospheric mystery set in Scotland’s spectacular Outer Hebrides, where landscape, sky and winds contribute to the story’s mood and effect, Neal rushes to find answers to his ever-increasing list of questions. When a body is discovered on one of the Flannan Islands, he soon becomes entangled in a murder investigation. Is there a connection too, to the unsolved Flannan Island mystery from years ago? (For more about the Flannan Island lighthouse keepers, check out the movie The Vanishing, an excellent psychological thriller.)
Meanwhile in Edinburgh, Karen is a rebellious seventeen-year-old, angry at the world and trying to understand her father’s suicide. Her mother is moving on, but something isn’t right and Karen is determined to understand why.
I’ll stop here in describing the plot, because any more would give away too much, but readers should get ready for a much broader story, with global conspiracies and clandestine efforts that point to an environmental disaster.
I enjoyed this standalone novel from 2016 by Peter May, who is a former script writer and editor for British television. I read and liked The Lewis Trilogy (The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man, and The Chessmen) and was excited to read Coffin Road. I always like a good memory loss story, so Neal Maclean’s mysterious circumstances fit the bill.
A bit formulaic and with a couple incongruous situations, particularly at the end and regarding Karen’s plot line, I didn’t think this was as good as The Lewis Trilogy. A few typos and a grammar mistake (the old “I” instead of “me” no-no) took a little bit away. I don’t think this is the same publisher as his other books, so maybe it’s related to that. In addition, the environmental story line and implications were interesting, but I didn’t think they fit well into Neal’s mystery. But it was a fun read, always good during a busy time, and I’m looking forward to reading other books by May.
If you’re interested in The Lewis Trilogy, check out my reviews here:
The Lewis Man
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5 thoughts on “Book Review: Coffin Road by Peter May”
Thanks for the review, Barbara.
I hope you have good eyesight, Barbara. You surely do read a lot. Thanks for this thorough review.
Just got new glasses so maybe that explains it! Thanks for the visit, Marian. 🙂
I’ve had my eye on the Lewis trilogy for a while now — glad to see you recommend them! Sounds like I should start there, rather than with this book. Great review!
The title alone makes me interested. I would love to read a book set in Scotland. Thanks for the review!
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