Riverrun | 2018 (11 January) | 448p | Review copy | Buy the book
Niamh and Ruairidh Macfarlane are on a business trip in Paris to sell their fine Ranish Tweed which they weave on the Hebridean island of Lewis. From very small beginnings, their business is booming, the cloth has caught the eye of the fashion industry, but all is not well between Niamh and Ruairidh. Niamh has reason to suspect that her husband is having an affair and when she sees him getting into a car with that woman in Paris she feels sure their marriage is over. But then the car explodes, ripped apart by a bomb and Niamh, who witnesses the whole terrible thing, must face a new future, filled with questions, grief and danger.
When Niamh returns to Lewis, her life in shreds, she is followed by the Parisian investigative officer Sylvie Braque. And while Braque continues her enquiries and chases her suspicions, Niamh looks back at her life with Ruairidh from their first meeting as children and tries to find the clues in their story together that will reveal the identity of the person who blew their lives apart.
I’ll Keep You Safe is the first novel by Peter May that I’ve read but it most certainly won’t be the last. A standalone novel, it presents a beautiful portrait of life on this most stunning, rain-soaked island, where every so often the clouds will part to reveal a paradise. I loved the way in which the island and its inhabitants are presented. In addition to the dialect and names (there’s a pronunciation guide at the beginning), there are so many bits and pieces about life – and death – on the island. There are many traditions and superstitions and we see glimpses of a fair few that mark the passing of different seasons or the passing of a life.
The story is also complemented by a series of almost anecdotal tales as Niamh remembers the course of her relationship with Ruairidh. One of these even takes us to New York and a most surprising event that happened there, but there are many other events, sometimes dramatic, that shaped their lives together. And there are also tantalising glimpses of the happy moments of peace. Peter May presents a wonderful portrait of a love affair that also throws up possible reasons for Ruairidh’s death. In many ways all of this is a tribute to Ruairidh’s life, which was lived to the full and is revealed so effectively bit by bit. But the clues are there and they are many.
But perhaps the greatest portrait in this novel is that of Niamh and we see most of what occurs by her side. It’s a powerful depiction of grief, loss and bewilderment, all enhanced by the dramatic scenery and weather. It’s sensitively done – it’s one of the finest depictions of a woman I’ve read by a male author, it felt true to her. We’re also given intriguing glimpses into the French detective’s private life but for Braque I felt that we weren’t given enough. I wanted more. I liked her very much. In fact, I enjoyed all of the characters in the novel with one exception (and they will remain nameless).
I had a few minor reservations about the way in which I’ll Keep You Safe ended (without going into any of it). It certainly didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this excellent novel at all but some of it felt a little implausible. Nevertheless, I’ll Keep You Safe is a wonderful novel, so beautifully written, completely engrossing, with fantastic characters and such a strong sense of place. I have no idea why I haven’t read any of Peter May’s books before. I can see that I now have a lot of catching up to do…