The Chessmen by Peter May is one of the most eagerly awaited books of the past year. When the "The Blackhouse" was published in early 2011 it seemed difficult to believe that its compelling structure, alternating between the present and the past of Detective Inspector Fin Macleod, made a follow up possible. But then The Lewis Man emerged at the beginning of 2012 as the second part of a trilogy, and this trilogy now sees its conclusion a year later with "The Chessmen".
We turned to page one of the latest book with slightly mixed feelings. The first two parts of the trilogy were among the very finest Scottish crime novels we have encountered, and we started reading torn between the hope that The Chessmen would be worthy of its predecessors and provide a fitting conclusion to the series: and the fear that it might simply not prove possible for it to live up to the superb quality of the earlier books. We need not have worried: and neither should you. The Chessmen is an outstanding novel that more than fully lives up to the hopes we had for it.
Fin Macleod, who had left the police by the time we encountered him in the second book, is now head of security on a privately owned estate on the Isle of Lewis. He has been brought in to tackle widespread and large scale poaching, but is immediately drawn into conflict with minor local poacher, and old school friend, Whistler Macaskill. The remarkable story that unfolds does so in the same manner as in the first book, with the narrative alternating between Fin's present and his past. A freakish natural phenomenon in the mountains of south west Lewis uncovers a mystery, and evidence of a crime. Two decades earlier both Fin and Whistler had been involved in a local band that went on to achieve lasting fame and fortune on a larger stage without the involvement of either, and what they unearth brings back memories that both would prefer to leave buried. As the reader becomes ever more deeply drawn into the interplay of past and present the story moves towards an unexpectedly dramatic climax, and what is particularly satisfying is the way loose ends from the first two volumes are woven into the book's conclusion.
Our only regret about The Chessmen is that it is described as the concluding part of the trilogy. But if Douglas Adams could turn The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy into what eventually became "a trilogy in five parts", then perhaps Peter May can find a way of satisfying the large and ever growing number of fans who will be very sorry indeed if this is the last time we meet Fin Macleod.
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