THE NEW START. 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. THE OLD FRIEND. This mission reunites him with Whistler Macaskill – a local poacher, Fin’s teenage intimate, and possessor of a long-buried secret. THE FINAL CHAPTER. 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…
The third instalment of the Lewis trilogy preceeded by ‘The Blackhouse’ and ‘The Lewis Man’ and to my mind, the most enjoyable of the series. Ex Edinburgh DI Fin MacLeod has severed ties from the mainland and his former life, and taken up permanent residence on the Isle of Lewis, working as head of security for a private estate. After the discovery of a plane and body in a drained loch, and an illegal spate of poaching, Fin is thrust into an uneasy relationship with his friend Whistler Macaskill as the secrets of their shared past resonates into the present, culminating in suspicion and murder.
Although essentially a murder mystery I think this actually plays second fiddle to May’s adroit mapping of human relationships and the study of old friendships and enmities that colour the central investigation. The book moves effortlessly between past and present, charting Fin’s experiences as a younger man employed as a roadie for a local band, finding himself enmeshed in the central creative and personal tensions of his friends and bandmates. With the disappearance of one of them in a suspected plane crash, we discover that all is not as it seems and these relationships all have a part to play in the central mystery and impact strongly on the present set aspect of the novel. The most important friendship is that of Fin and Whistler and in the depiction of their relationship May introduces moments of extreme poignancy, particularly as Fin’s aunt, who raises Fin after his parent’s death, takes Whistler and his alcoholic bully of a father to task over Whistler’s upbringing thus sealing the strength of Fin and Whistler’s friendship for years to come. The mercurial Whistler is revealed throughout the book as a volatile character who causes no end of grief to Fin, and plays an integral part to the central plot that at times pulls on the heartstrings, particularly in Whistler’s relationship with his feisty estranged teenage daughter. As a number of Fin’s professional and personal relationships are woven into the plot with the dark secrets of the past coming to light, this adds layers of interest to the story and makes us wonder exactly who Fin can trust and where his future lies.
As in the other two books, the natural and, at times, harsh beauty of the Outer Hebrides is perfectly captured throughout, drawing on the history of the island and the way of life of its inhabitants, coloured by its staunchly religious traditions. The portrayal of landscape takes on the mantle of another character in the book and the textures and hues of this largely unspoilt wilderness is beautifully portrayed. Having previously enjoyed May’s China based thrillers featuring detective Li Yan, I’m also a firm fan of this trilogy and would certainly encourage other readers to seek them out, as May is a phenomenally good thriller writer with an innate skill in plotting, characterisation and sense of place. A great read.
‘The Chessmen’ is available as a Kindle edition now will be published in hardback 3rd January 2013 (Quercus)
Visit the author’s website here: http://maypeter.com/
Peter May on the Outer Hebrides: http://www.quercusbooks.co.uk/blog/2012/01/12/peter-may-on-the-outer-hebrides/
(With thanks to Quercus for the advance reading copy)