Many Peter May readers will, like me, be coming to the Enzo MacLeod files for the first time with Cast Iron, dubbed the '6th and final' of the series. The Toulouse-based forensic investigator had his first five outings before the Lewis trilogy catapulted May into the bestsellers list.
And for those new readers, the biggest challenge of the book will be figuring out MacLeod's extraordinary personal life. The first few chapters of Cast Iron are a maelstrom of ex-wives, girlfriends, children, grandchildren, children of indeterminate paternity and any number of other characters with whom the Scotsman has a complicated relationship. It was disorienting at first, and a reminder of why I like to read series in order.
But as the central narrative emerged from the emotional carnage, I was also reminded why I've enjoyed May's work so much: he's a smart writer who knows how to weave the threads of a story together to build a great narrative, and he's also very good portrait artist. His leads tend to be complex but are all the more convincing for that.
May made his name in the Hebrides but his home in south-west France and the action flits back and forth between there and Paris. At the heart of this story is the decades-old unsolved murder of Lucie Martin, a young charity worker whose role in prisoner rehabilitation brought her into contact with some nasty characters. One of those, a convicted serial killer serving life for the murders of other young women, is the prime suspect.
MacLeod's investigation leads him a merry dance all over France, from maximum security prisons, to the forgotten estates of Bordeaux and even close to the corridors of power in Paris. In doing so, May shows another of his strengths - the very strong sense of place in his novels. May's love of his corner of France shines brightly.
While Cast Iron may not have the emotional depth of the Lewis trilogy, or the period nostalgia of another previous outing, Runaway, it has pace, plenty of action and a plot that closes with a delicious twist. It will doubtless earn Enzo MacLeod an army of new readers.
Previous Peter May reviews:
Entry Island 2014
Coffin Road 2016
Material Witness interview with Peter May, August 2013