Published: 10/01/2013 12:45 - Updated: 11/01/2013 10:15

REVIEW: The Chessmen by Peter May

Written byby Margaret Chrystall

THE opening gambit for former Detective Inspector Fin Macleod restarting his life came in The Blackhouse when he returned to his Lewis home.

THE CHESSMEN (Quercus, £14.99) is the endgame for Fin’s story – the final book in Peter May’s most recent crime trilogy.

Many faithful readers will be dreading the last of Fin – and of the series that’s made Lewis almost as much of a lead character as the troubled ex-cop.

The Chessmen begins as Fin starts a new job investigating a serious spate of illegal game poaching at a local estate.

Fin’s relationship with former child sweetheart Marsaili is strangely frozen.

Yet when he bumps into old schoolfriend Whistler Macaskill, a key is offered to unlock a vital section of Fin’s emotional past.

But as Whistler’s alternative use of his many talents includes poaching, Fin has to juggle his job and protecting his friend from his own thrawn, volatile self.

As with the earlier books, May shares his knowledge of the landscape and culture – learned while producing Gaelic soap Machair there in the 80s – to create a seductive picture of Lewis.

The story of the Iolaire ship disaster at the end of the First World War is woven into this plot. And at the heart of the book are the Lewis chessmen – Whistler sculpting his own larger-than-life versions.

"Fin stepped in to take a closer look. Whistler, apparently, had unexpected talents. It was a beautifully sculpted figure, a minutely-accurate replica, down to the smallest detail. The folds in the bishop’s cloak, the fine lines combed through the hair beneath his mitre ... No doubt Whistler could have found employment in the Viking workshops in Trondheim where the actual pieces were thought to have been carved out of walrus ivory and whales’ teeth in the twelfth century."

Peter May
Peter May

Fin is often a pawn in the stories of those around him, facing a headlong journey through the rapidly-unfolding plot.

At the start of The Lewisman a landscape shockingly offered up a body from the peat.

Here May uses a miraculous overnight quirk of nature – a "bog burst" – to reveal the answer to a long-running mystery affecting Fin and the rock band he roadied for as a student.

But being a vintage May plot, nothing’s quite as simple as it first looks.

Discovering the plot twists for yourself is one of the pleasures of his writing – so no spoilers here.

But The Chessmen transforms Lewis from somewhere Fin’s had an often difficult past to a place he might have a meaningful future.

The good news for those who may have fallen for the Lewis landscape is that Peter will be taking readers back there in the new book he has just finished.

In his blog (http://maypeter.com/2013/01/04/a-look-back-and-forward/) the writer confirms that Fin’s story has definitely finished.

But don't despair, there is another Macleod waiting in the wings...

Peter's earlier Enzo Files series - originally published in France and America featuring French-based Scottish forensic expert Enzo Macleod - will be published by Quercus in 2014.

The upcoming book tour includes author talks from Peter in:

North and South Uist Lochmaddy Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre on January 19, 2pm and Lochboisdale Hotel, January 21, 7pm.

Harris Tarbert Community Library on January 22, 7pm

Lewis Stornoway Woodlands Centre, January 23, 7.30pm and Ness Historical Society, January 24, 7.30pm

Inverness Waterstones, January 25, 4pm (signing only)

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