Read of the Week

Coffin Road

Peter May

Quercus

Review: Brian Joss

The national newspapers recently featured a story about a Tulbagh farmer whose bees were killed and his hives destroyed when a crop-sprayer delivered a load of lethal pesticide on a nearby farm.

And that’s the central theme of this engrossing thriller: the destruction of bees and the effect it has on agriculture.

The story opens when a man is washed up at Luskentyre beach on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides.

The man has apparently lost his memory: he has no idea who he is, what he is or even where he is. But as he staggers up the hill, his landlady identifies him as Neal MacLean.

He doesn’t know if that really is his name, although when he gets to his cottage his dog, Bran, barks in excitement.

It’s even more of a mystery when Sally Harrison, his next-door-neighbour, arrives claiming to be his lover. Although she seems familiar, he has no recollection of her.

MacLean may be a writer investigating the disappearance of the three keepers from the Flannan Isles lighthouse about 76 years ago. When MacLean returns to Flannan to check his theory, he discovers a bludgeoned body in the chapel. So he may also be a murderer. All that McLean does know is that whatever he’s doing on Isle of Harris, it has to do with bees.

And this impression is reinforced when MacLean finds a cluster of hives near a cemetery at the end of the treacherous Coffin Road.

Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, a teenage girl, Karen Fleming, is desperate to discover the truth about her scientist father’s apparent suicide and Detective Sergeant George Gunn has to find out who killed the man in the chapel.

Behind it all is Ergo, a research company which is determined to suppress the evidence that neonicotinoids make bees lose their memory and as a result can’t find their way to the pollen.

There’s plenty of treachery, backstabbing, a kidnapping, a few bodies and plenty of twists and turns in this eco-thriller that is as topical as today’s headlines.

It is a page-turner par excellence that will keep you guessing until the last page. It is the first book I have read by Peter May and it won’t be the last.