February 2013

Peter May - The Chess Men

"From the beginning I was gripped by 'The Chess Men'..."

In this, the third book of Peter May's story of Fin Macleod, Fin is back in Lewis as a civilian working as head of security for a local landowner investigating an increase in poaching on the estate. When an unusual natural phenomenon results in a loch simply disappearing, the appearance of a wrecked small plane on the bottom of the loch starts a train of events that dig deep into the past of Fin and his old friend and maverick, Whistler Macaskill.

The body found in the wreck appears to be that of Roddy Mackenzie, the leader of a successful Celtic rock band who had been piloting a small plane that had disappeared seventeen years ago. The group had started when Fin and Whistler were at school in Stornoway. Both were involved with the band and left it for reasons connected to the beautiful lead singer, Mairead Morrison. After Roddy's disappearance the band continued to flourish and the haunting music they produced remained very popular.

The second funeral for Roddy Mackenzie reunites the band in Lewis, but feelings are running high. Fin is attacked when he goes to visit Whistler and secrets from the past drive the events of this story and the final revelation leaves Fin with an uncertain future but a resolve to support those who suffered from those events.

In this book, Peter May investigates the influence of the past on the future. Events that took place in Fin's youth come back to haunt him and more particularly his friends. It is rather scary to think that unresolved issues, long buried, can have such devastating effects, but 'The Chess Men' reads true to life and in keeping with the slightly melancholic view of life that Fin Macleod carries with him.

As always, the way of life in the islands, past and present , is beautifully described. The intense relationships and strong feelings of young people come to life both in the descriptions of the young Fin and his friends and in the characters of wee Anna and Fin's son Fionnlagh. Fin himself is a complex character. He has good motives but is a man of strong passions, who is carried along by the force of the moment. He is drawn back to his island home where there are the memories of his past but he is learning to understand himself more. May really gets under the skin of Fin and helps us to understand the various influences and decisions he makes.

Above all this is a very good read. From the beginning I was gripped by 'The Chess Men' and I was compelled to carry on reading to the very end. This has been a remarkable trilogy from Peter May and one that will stay with me and one I am likely to re-read again and again. Sublime.

Reviewed by: S.D.

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