The Chess Men by Peter May
Peter May has won many plaudits and awards for the books in his Hebridean trilogy, and deservedly so as his association with the Isle of Lewis during his time in television gave him access to its landscape, its history and its people over a number of years. This knowledge and fascination with the island and its way of life, its remoteness and isolation, the closeness of its communities, shines through in the three books of the trilogy — The Black House, The Lewis Man and The Chess Men — and creates a enthralling sense of place.
I didn’t read the books in order as The Lewis Man was the first I came across and ensured reading the other two was inevitable. All three books are powerful, and moving with picture-painting descriptions of the rugged landscape and harsh seascape. Like the other two books The Chess Men leaves the reader with an indelible impression of the island and of the fine line Fin Macleod has to tread between his views of these people he was brought up with, and the knowledge that, unlikely as it may seem, one of them is the perpetrator a crime. And he is the one responsible for uncovering the perpetrator.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed both The Chess Men and The Lewis Man, whenever I think of this trilogy it is difficult to steer my mind away from the guga hunt in The Black House. In a traditional pilgrimage to a an island in the ocean the men sail off to kill gugas, in an unbelievable feat of cliff climbing and sea daring, burning off their feathers and salting growing piles of the birds to provide meat for their families during harsh winter months. It is a fitting scene, austere and savage for what takes place.
Beside the power of that The Chess Men perhaps falls a little short, though it is still a story well worth the read. In fact, read all three.