We need to admit to a bias in writing this review. We love Peter May's books, especially those with a Scottish setting, and there is nothing in the literary world that has us salivating quite as much as the news that another is due to be published. Yet such supremely high expectations tend to be accompanied by just a tinge of apprehension when it comes to the actual act of opening the book. What if, this time, our hopes for a superbly enjoyable read are not met? We needn't have worried. "I'll Keep You Safe" by Peter May is an outstanding novel, easily up to the standards of his earlier classics such as the "Black House" trilogy and "Coffin Road".
We meet husband and wife Niamh and Ruairidh Macfarlane as they make a business trip to Paris. They are entrepreneurs who have made a huge success of their cloth company, Ranish Tweed, based on the Isle of Lewis. Think Harris Tweed, but lighter and softer, and for many customers at least as alluring. But there are tensions in their relationship. Niamh is told her husband is having an affair with the beautiful Russian designer Irina Vetrov, and his own actions do little to ease her growing concerns. Then Niamh sees the pair being killed by a car bomb in the heart of Paris, and the bottom falls out of her existence.
The explosion is also witnessed by Lieutenant Sylvie Braque, a detective in the Paris police, who then finds herself leading the hunt for the bomber. The French police rapidly rule out terrorism as a motive, leaving more straightforward murder. Their prime suspects are Irina Vetrov's husband Georgy, who has conveniently disappeared, and Niamh. Back in Lewis with her husband's remains, Niamh tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered life, while also trying to work out who, other than Georgy, might possibly have had a motive to kill Ruairidh.
If Peter May has a defining characteristic, it is in his wonderful use of time in his novels and he shows this again in "I'll Keep You Safe". Niamh peels back layer upon layer of her early life, and of Ruairidh's, from childhood to marriage to their building Ranish Tweed into an internationally successful brand. We find ourselves moving backwards and forwards between past events and current developments, and begin to realise that there are more people than you might expect who have long-standing and deeply-held grievances against Ruairidh. But would any of these really have translated into a car bomb in Paris? The French police are also wondering whether the key to the bombing might lie in Rauiridh's past. Lieutenant Sylvie Braque travels to Lewis to attend Rauiridh's funeral and on arrival teams up with Detective Sergeant George Gunn.
In the past we've described Peter May as a master of misdirection, and he again lives up to that here. We found ourselves drawn so deeply into the story that the first three hundred pages passed in what seemed to be a flash. And still we had no idea where the book was going and how the multiple strands that had been developed could possibly be resolved. It was at about this point that a second apprehension began to arise. We've seen authors in the past - not, it has to be said, Peter May - who have written superb books that are completely spoiled by feeble and unsatisfactory endings. As the thickness of the pages still to be read dwindled, we began to see ways in which the book could take an easy way out. Once more we needn't have worried. Suffice it to say that the conclusion of "I'll Keep You Safe" fully does justice to what precedes it. This is a wonderful book that takes you into the heart of an intriguing mystery and under the skin of life on the Isle of Lewis.