20 Jan 2016

The Coffin Road. Grumpy reader's review here.

I bought the latest Peter May book because it’s called ‘Coffin Roads’ and I was hoping for a story based around these ancient pathways. The pathways are thought to have been trodden by people carrying dead relatives back to their native villages to be buried. Carved stone resting places can be found along the route to enable those carrying the coffin to pause and fortify themselves with bread and ale. The pathways are thought by some to run along leys, earth energy lines. In themselves the paths are an interesting feature left in a landscape, and one that readily provides fodder for a story. In the case of this novel, sadly their name has been used as a calculated marketing ploy. It makes a great title. The coffin road in the story features only briefly and could easily have been any sheep path followed by the protagonist on his quest for an answer (no spoilers here, only grumbles.)  

I am often frustrated by Peter May’s novels. So why continue to buy them? The answer to that is partly laziness when I'm wanting an undemanding read, and partly the setting. The Lewis Trilogy - well, it doesn’t take a particularly talented writer to be evocative about the Hebridean Islands. Ann Cleeves does it and I often get her stories mixed up in my memory with Peter May’s simply because of the setting. She is another writer I don’t have much respect for but who tells a good enough tale for me to buy occasionally. (Her ‘Vera’ series is much better than her Hebridean series in my opinion. For one thing she doesn’t have to keep throwing in the phrase ‘He was just a peerie boy’ to show she is down with the local lingo.)

PM starts the ‘Coffin Road’ in the first person and present tense. Making for a very bumpy, strained, read. Obviously it’s used to distinguish the protagonist from the rest of the cast but is just clunky and irritating.  Plenty of people write really well in the present tense, not so PM.

I expect it will be seen to be good TV material. That’s because it’s simple, two-dimensional stuff without a complex back story or much troublesome psychological delving for motivation. Unlike my favourite writer Phil Rickman who tells a great tale with plenty of depth. More about him another time no doubt.

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