AUTHOR Peter May might be responsible for suggesting murder rates in the Western Isles — running at an average of one per century, as he pointed out to his publisher — are way higher than they are in reality, but Highlanders do not seem to hold that against him.
Not if the number who came along to his sell out event at Inverness Town House were anything to go by.
May, who joked that he was "dogged by islands" given that his latest Canadian set novel is titled Entry Island, admitted to interviewer Nicola MacAlley of STV that he had been concerned about how the books would go down with the islanders.
"When the first book came out, I had no idea how it would be received, after all I’m not from there, I’m a Glasgow boy," he said.
"Three weeks later I got an email from a certain gentleman called Dods MacFarlane, who is the leader of the guga hunters.
"I was scared to open it, but when I did, it said: ‘Me and the boys have read the book and we love it.’ Phew!"
The guga hunters might love the book, but May seemed less certain about guga itself, hesitantly describing it as not bad" with the texture of duck and the taste of fish and certainly not the worst thing he had tasted.
Though given that was deep fried whole scorpion eaten at a Chinese banquet — juicy and bitter apparently — you could chalk that down to condemning the culinary delights of guga with faint praise.
Suggesting that he might never have written about Lewis at all had he never moved to France, and revealing the part played by formidable sounding French publisher in transforming The Blackhouse from a standalone novel to the opening part of a trilogy, May also spoke about how his long held ambition to write about the Highland Clearances sparked the idea for the plot of Entry Island, leading him not only to tiny Entry Island in Quebec, but Grosse-ile, Canada’s equivalent of Ellis Island, where immigrants were quarantined before they were allowed into the country.
"The biggest Celtic cross in the world is there," he added.
"That was built by the Irish because thousands of them came over during the Irish Potato Famine and 5000 of them died in the space of five months."
May revealed that his latest book will cover more recent history — and have nothing to do with islands — drawing on his own experiences as a teenager in London in 1965. Which means he now knows a lot about the mid-1960s.
"Did you know the 70 mile an hour limit was introduced in 1965?" he asked.
"Before that you could go as fast as you like."
Questions from the audience led to revelations that the Americans — who recently gave May a major crime-writing award — are going wild for the Lewis books and are frustrated that only the first of the trilogy has been released over there, and that a film version of one of May’s China set thrillers is currently in production. Although with the French producers replacing his American heroine with a French one and relocating the setting from China to South Korea where the central premise of the book no longer makes sense, May could not bring himself to recommend it to his readers.
As entertaining in person as he is on the page, though in a rather different way, May signed off by relating how, after illegally parking his car in his home village in France, he caught the eye of a fearsome looking Gendarme, who beckoned him over to his van.
"M. Peter May?" he asked of the nervous author. "I love your books!"
And so, as the Inverness event demonstrated, do a lot of others.