Being a huge fan of this author's "Lewis" series, I couldn't wait to get my mitts on his new stand alone novel. While there are similarities, this is a very different read...part police procedural, part historical drama.
In the present we meet Detective Sime (pronounced "Sheem", gaelic for Simon) MacKenzie. He's part of a contingent en route to Entry Island to investigate the murder of the small community's richest man. Also on the team is Marie-Ange, his ex-wife.
The only witness to the attack is the dead man's wife, Kirsty Cowell. Could she also be the killer? Sime's role is as interrogator but he falters upon meeting the lovely young widow, still covered in her husband's blood. He's struck by the feeling they've met before, an impossibility as she's well known for never leaving the island. Her version of events casts her as the other victim of the assault but Sime's colleagues quickly consider her the prime suspect.
Maybe Sime's chronic insomnia is clouding his judgement. Exhausted & depressed by his failed marriage, his sleepless nights are broken only by short, vivid dreams of life as a poor crofter on the Isle of Lewis in the 1840's. What's strange is that he feels as if he's lived the events playing out in the dreams. What's stranger is the presence of Kirsty in every one.
As the team investigates the current murder, Sime has to deal with his fragile grip on reality, uncooperative locals, a heartbreaking discovery about his marriage & personal danger. He will have to finally face up to his past in order to make sense of the present if there's any hope of moving on in his personal & professional lives.
This is really two books. Chapters alternate between the murder case & a historical account of the first Sime, his several times great grandfather who was forced to immigrate to Canada during the Highland Clearances. Both are compelling due to this author's facility in creating characters you care about & evoking the atmosphere of a particular time & place.
In the present, Sime is portrayed as an intelligent & solitary man, bewildered by his inability to sustain any personal relationships. His acrimonious divorce causes discomfort in the department as he attempts to work with Marie-Ange who comes across as cold & bitter. His fatigue affects his performance & this is further hindered by a mysterious link to Kirsty. Long estranged from his sister & single again, all he has is his career but he's finding it hard to care anymore. He's a likeable & sympathetic character & I found myself wishing he could find a little joy in life, not to mention a long nap.
The historical saga is equally engrossing. You can almost feel the bitter cold & smell the smoke from the blackhouses as you follow the elder Sime from hard, tragic boyhood to Canadian settler. The author has obviously done their homework on the Clearances & subsequent flood of Scottish immigrants who built much of lower Quebec & the eastern provinces where you can still feel their cultural influence today. Particularly affecting are the passages describing Sime's voyage across the Atlantic as the reader is pulled into the story of the horrific conditions these people endured as they tried to live long enough to make it to the new world.
Inevitably both plot lines begin to mystically merge as Sime the detective investigates not only the murder but his own family tree. There are several good candidates as the killer & the eventual reveal may come as a surprise. It comes to a satisfying end although, as in real life, not everything is neatly resolved.
I highly recommend this book for fans of well written, thought provoking novels with a historical bent & a dash of romance. It's a compelling example of a great journey being just as enjoyable as reaching the destination.