The Chessmen

PETER MAY

Fin Macleod, now head of security on a privately owned Lewis estate, is charged with investigating a spate of illegal game-hunting taking place on the island. This mission reunites him with Whistler Macaskill – a local poacher, Fin’s teenage intimate, and possessor of a long-buried secret.

But when this reunion takes a violent, sinister turn and Fin puts together the fractured pieces of the past, he realizes that revealing the truth could destroy the future.

My Thoughts

The Chessmen brings the Lewis Trilogy to close as Fin Macleod discovers a body after a freak event of nature known as a bog burst empties a loch full of water to reveal the remains of a crashed airplane. The airplane crashed into the loch almost twenty years ago claiming the life of a childhood friend of Fin’s who became a famous musician. After examining the body, it becomes evident his friend was murdered and Fin is determined to find out what happened to Roddy Mackenzie.

Like the other books, the story weaves between the past and the present as Fin remembers the group of friends who would eventually go on to become one of Scotland’s most famous Gaelic bands. As Fin recounts how close he was to the band and how he even worked as a roadie for them until he went to university, I thought it was strange these friends had never been mentioned in the first book which went into quite a bit of detail about Fin’s time at school. As the band gathers for Roddy’s funeral, it becomes increasingly evident they are hiding secrets and Fin is determined to find out the truth.

Since he is no longer a policeman, Fin has to rely on the goodwill of a local officer to provide him with relevant information and his new job as a gamekeeper also brings him into conflict with Whistler, a former member of the band, who is a well known poacher. Whistler reacts badly when the body is discovered and continues to act oddly throughout the investigation leading Fin to believe Whistler knows more than he is telling. Whistler and Roddy were both in love with the same woman, the band’s lead vocalist, and jealousy drove Whistler to ultimately leave the band. Now Fin is left wondering if the bad feelings between the two led to murder. As Fin delves deeper into the band’s past, a shock revelation will leave him wondering if he ever knew these people at all.

The whole story is told against the atmospheric backdrop of the Isle of Lewis which is the real star of the book once again. The descriptions of the wildness of the island are breathtaking and really make you feel like you are there. It’s probably not the first place that would come to mind as a setting for a series of crime novels but these remote Scottish places are becoming more popular thanks to Peter May and the Shetland series by Ann Cleeves. Each book has also led to me researching a lot of random stuff on Google and this time it was the phenomenon known as bog bursting which is utterly bizarre.

The name of the book alludes to Whistler’s hobby of carving chess pieces and also the famous Lewis chess pieces that were found at Uig on the island in 1831. The ivory chess pieces likely originated from Scandinavia and can be seen on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh or at the British Museum in London.