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May, Peter - 'The Chessmen'
Hardback: 400 pages (Jan. 2013) Publisher: Quercus ISBN: 0857382233

Third in the enjoyable "Lewis" trilogy, THE CHESSMEN is, once again, an atmospheric novel set in the wilds of the Outer Hebrides - specifically, the island of Lewis. Fin, the protagonist, has quit the Glasgow police force and here takes a job as head of security on a local estate, which is suffering a huge financial drain from a professional poaching organisation. Fin is ambivalent about his new job, though, especially when he discovers his employer is at loggerheads with Whistler, an impoverished friend from Fin's schooldays who lives on a croft on estate land but pays no rent.

The main plot of the book is driven by a bizarre discovery made by Fin and Whistler: the water from a loch has completely drained away, exposing the wreckage of a small plane on the bed of the lake. Fin immediately realises that a 20-year-old mystery is now solved: another old schoolfriend, Roddy, had disappeared while flying his plane and his body has never been found. Fin's discovery of a dead man in the cockpit seems to have bought a resolution to this old case.

Much of the rest of the novel is taken up with the back-story of Fin, Whistler, Roddy and other schoolfriends, gradually bringing the reader into the present day. Robbie, Whistler, a girl called Mairead and two other boys had formed a band which was becoming increasingly successful playing in pubs and at weddings on the island. Fin became a roadie for the band, partly because he was attracted to Mairead, the beautiful singer. As well as the many inevitable tensions and rivalries between the group of teenagers, the author weaves into the narrative a story about HMS Iolaire, a ship that was wrecked off the coast of Lewis as it returned sailors who had been serving in the First World War. More than 200 men drowned, making it one of the worst maritime disasters in UK waters in the 20th century.

THE CHESSMEN is a good, solid mystery novel, though when all is finally revealed there are several rather obvious holes in the plot. The story of the band lacks some of the interest of the family relationships and dark histories that are uncovered in the previous two books. The main strength of the novel is the wonderful depiction of the island, and the love which the men (mainly) have for it. In the end, Fin finds some resolution for a past tragedy, but enough is left unfinished for me to wonder if he will be appearing again in future books.

Maxine Clarke, England
January 2013

Maxine blogged at

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 6/01/2013 17:19