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Friday, 14 November 2014

‘The Chessmen’ by Peter May

Published by Quercus
29 August 2013. 
ISBN: 978-0-85738-225-2

This crime novel completes May’s ‘Lewis Trilogy’ of novels set on the largest of the Western Isles, Scotland.  Although it completes the story of Fin Macleod’s return to the isle of his birth, there’s no need to have read the first two to enjoy The Chess Men, and few words are taken up with filling in the back-story. After leaving the police, Fin has now become a game-keeper.  The isles’ main poacher is his old friend, Whistler, who’s busy carving a set of replicas of the Viking-age Lewis Chessmen. 

The novel alternates between past and present: the finding, in the present, of an aircraft with a body inside, and Fin’s memories of his roadie days for the Celtic fusion band led by the plane’s owner, Roddy Mackenzie.  As in the other two novels, May alternates between third and first person, which keeps the story moving on, and makes the past / present switches clear to the reader.  I felt his use here was less successful, because we were already seeing inside Fin’s head in the third-person narration; I think it would have been more interesting to see into the head of, say, the enigmatic Mairead.  However the plot is clever and the cliff-hangers lure you to lead on.  There’s a satisfying solution.  The western isles are vividly described, both the landscape and sea, and the brooding religious atmosphere.  Overall, a splendid finish, and it could be read as a stand-alone, but I’d recommend readers to enjoy all three books in the set.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Peter May is one of Scotland's most prolific television dramatists, he garnered more than 1000 credits in 15 years as scriptwriter and script editor on prime-time British television drama. He is the creator of three major television drama series and presided over two of the highest rated serials in his homeland before quitting television to concentrate on his first love, writing novels. The first book in the Lewis Trilogy, The Blackhouse, set in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.was the winner of France's Cezam Prix Litteraire. The follow-up, The Lewis Man, was winner of the French Newspaper Le Telegramme's 10,000 euro readers' prize for the best book of 2011 as well as Les Ancres Noires 2012.  The trilogy concludes with the publication of The Chessmen.
 Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

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