Review: "Entry Island" Weaves Mystery and History Together

Allyson Floridia ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Entry Island, home to a small community of about a hundred people, looms off the eastern coast of Canada. It is a quiet lobster fishing town with little-to-no crime—until the shocking murder of James Cowell. The prime suspect? His wife, Kirsty. Sime (pronounced Sheem) is a detective assigned to the case. As he attempts to solve the murder, he begins dreaming of a younger Kirsty in nineteenth century Scotland. In Entry Island, Peter May constructs a murder mystery with ties to the past. Using the Highland potato famine and a time known as the Highland Clearances as inspiration, May brings to light a much overlooked period of history.
The novel begins with the questions: Did Kirsty Cowell kill her husband? Why does Sime feel as though he knows Kirsty even though he’s never met her before? Switching between the present murder investigation and dreams of the past, the novel is slow to answer them. Sime’s chronic insomnia is reflected in the pace. As the red numbers on his digital clock painfully tick by, so does the investigation into Cowell’s murder as the detectives revisit several suspects for additional interviews. There is also a sense of apathy and distance between Sime and the world around him, which could be because of his insomnia. In turn, this creates a disconnect between the reader and the story.

"Entry Island" Cover. Source: Quercus Publishing
“Entry Island” Cover. Source: Quercus Publishing
Throughout the novel, May uses French names for locations and people. While this is an appropriate portrayal of the region’s dialect, having to constantly pause to sound out a name might further distance any readers unfamiliar with the language from the story. At the same time, descriptions are bountiful, crafting a setting reflective of Sime’s inner turmoil. A fog seems to endlessly hang over Entry Island. Its landscape is weather-beaten and gray. The atmosphere is one of dark energy and retrained force.
The story picks up as Sime’s dreams become more and more frequent. It is obvious from the beginning that Sime’s connection to Kirsty would have something to do with the murder. An initial guess about Sime and Kirsty’s possible relationship is that they are reincarnations of past lives. As they meet up again, they’re correcting mistakes they made in the past so they can finally be together. May disregards this hypothesis. Instead, May focuses on the idea of history. Every action has a consequence and leads to further action. The past makes a person who they are and events from the past can catch up to influence the present. This idea of fate and history revolve around one another, wrapping Entry Island and all of its inhabitants and visitors in a heavy cloak of suspended anticipation.
Despite Sime and Kirsty’s fragile romance tying the book together, the novel falls short in a rushed, somewhat predictable conclusion. Too much time was used setting up the investigation and tracking down every possible lead, some of which could easily be summarized in a few paragraphs. As a whole, Entry Island is full of history about the Highland potato famine and envelops readers in beautiful descriptions. The plot is slow to start and by the time it picks up with the identity of James’s murderer waiting in the shadows, readers may have already lost interest. The target audience for this book is probably reserved to those interested in detailed police investigations and Scottish history.

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