Book Nos 6 & 7 (2018) : The Lewis Man & The Chess Men

Starting these books and putting them down is a bit like trying to hide chocolates in the fridge. They just sit there shouting and waving at me, ‘wooo-hoo, we’re over here’, until I have to go and retrieve them and finish them off!

The Lewis Man‘ and ‘The Chess Men‘ are the 2nd and 3rd books respectively in Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy and I found them highly addictive.

The 1st novel, ‘The Black House‘, drew me in with its combination of murder and family stories, set against the background of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. I’ve visited the island. It is beautiful, but also somewhat bleak, and the weather dominates daily life in a way we probably can’t quite comprehend, as so many of us have lost our essential connections to the land. May’s descriptions of fishing communities, peat-cutting and folklore, together with relationships and feuds stretching back through decades, make for compelling reading.

The Lewis Man‘ centres upon the discovery of a body in the peat bogs, its features preserved by the acidic soil. Crucial to identifying the victim and discovering his fate, is Marsailli’s father. But Tormod’s mind is confused by dementia, making the pieces of the crime puzzle even more difficult for former detective Fin McLeod to piece together.

The members of a successful Gaelic band are the central characters in ‘The Chess Men‘. When a freak of  nature reveal s a wrecked plane with the former lead singer of Sòlas still strapped in the pilot’s seat, Fin is drawn into unravelling the fate of the band’s musicians.

Both books weave in and out of Fin McLeod’s past. Although each could be taken as a standalone work, reading the whole trilogy allows the reader to examine the experiences and relationships which have shaped Fin’s life through childhood, teenage years and adulthood. The threads of the story are dropped and picked up, intertwined and re-visited in clever ways, but there is not really a neat ending for Fin. Even though it would have been satisfying, I rather liked the ambiguity about his future. Peter May has said there won’t be any more books in the series, so each reader is left with their own ideas about how McLeod’s story will continue.

If you decide to embark on this trilogy, I suggest buying all three books at the same time. Because if my experience is anything to go by, once you finish ‘The Black House‘ you’ll be so keen to move on to ‘The Lewis Man‘ that even waiting for it to arrive in the post will be a frustrating delay!

Book No 3 (2018) : The Blackhouse

the blackhouseCrime fiction has never been one of my favourite genres, but this novel drew me in from the very first pages. It’s set on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides and we all know I’m a sucker for a Scottish tale, but it was the back story which had me hooked.

Fin is a detective in Edinburgh, but hails originally from the Isle of Lewis. When local islander Angel McCritchie is found murdered, the crime bears similarities to another murder in Leith. So Fin returns to his childhood home with the brief of finding Angel’s killer. Being back on the island brings Fin Macleod straight back into contact with his upbringing; childhood friend, Artair, his first love, Marsailli and their son, Fionnlagh and they all have secrets to reveal.

Central to the plot is the annual guga hunt undertaken by the men of the island. They spend two weeks on a desolate, craggy rock, fending for themselves in the blackhouse of the book’s title, whilst carrying out the historic cull of young gannets. The setting is harsh, violent, and woven into the very fabric of the relationships in the close community. What happens on the island, stays on the island, but the consequences of Fin’s participation in the guga hunt are devastating.

Peter May’s cleverly-crafted novel works on so many levels. As well as the twisting, turning plot, there is a very strong sense of place, evoked by descriptions of landscape and weather. Like the incessant wind, character’s emotions are raw and biting, cutting deep into the reader’s imagination. The closing chapter of the book is exciting, with a couple of last-minute revelations that I really couldn’t see coming.

A racy crime thriller with a real heart is a winning combination in this instance. I also love it when I discover that an author I’ve enjoyed has penned more of the same. I’ll definitely be seeking out the other two novels which follow Fin Macleod’s debut – the Lewis trilogy continues with ‘The Lewis Man‘ and concludes with ‘The Chessmen‘.

Even if, like me, crime is not usually your thing, I strongly urge you to let Peter May try and win you over. I bet he does.