The Chessmen by Peter May

A massive rainstorm after a drought, an abruptly drained loch, and a downed airplane with a corpse – so begins a mysterychessmen involving ex-cops, game poachers, former Celtic music stars, and years of grudges, all played out against the stark and unforgiving background of the Scottish island of Lewis, in this satisfying third installment in the Lewis trilogy that manages a tide of suspense as strong as the previous two books.

Our main guy Fin Macleod has found new employment as security at a huge country estate on Lewis.  Jamie Wooldridge, the owner of the estate, envisions his property as a moneymaker – setting up exclusive fishing trips for the wealthy types who would endure the rain for bragging rights to the best salmon catches.  But there’s a big time poaching problem, and the owner hires Fin, an ex-police detective, to solve the issue.

As Fin learns the ropes of the job, he encounters his old friend Whistler, a tenant on the estate who lives by his wits and some small time poaching of his own, but only for personal use.  Whistler has earned Jamie’s ire mainly by owing years of back rent and getting caught fishing on the estate.  The estate’s manager Big Kenny, wants Fin to have a talk with Whistler, a mighty man whose moods are as changeable as the weather, and who might not be on the best of terms with Big Kenny, for reasons that become quite clear early on in the book.

The Chessmen switches time frames often, going from the adolescence of Fin and his buddies to the present.  It’s mainly told in third person, although sometimes in the first person perspective of Fin’s, and this can be confusing.  Read on – the book quickly gets addictive, and it’s very easy to feel the wind and wet of Lewis.  Woven throughout the story is the island culture – weather-hardened, Gaelic-speaking, and (for some) church-bound.

This one could be read by itself, but I’d recommend the previous ones first, and in order  – The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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