Cover image of "The Chessmen," a moody murder mystery set in Scotland

The Lewis Chessmen are a rare 12th-century set of chess pieces carved in walrus ivory and whales’ teeth. Peter May gives them a place of honor in the gripping third volume in his trilogy of crime novels set on the Isle of Lewis, the northernmost of the Outer Hebrides Islands off the northwest coast of Scotland. The chessmen were discovered there in the 19th century. In this moody murder mystery, The Chessmen, a brilliant and eccentric local man known as Whistler has carved a life-sized replica of the set. Whistler plays a leading role in the story.

A grim and inhospitable landscape in a far corner of Scotland

The setting of The Chessmen looms large in the telling. May refers to it as “a landscape so alien and primordial that it would not have been out of place on the moon.” In this cold, rainy, unwelcoming environment, some thousands of stubborn, fiercely conservative people eke out a living from fishing, sheep-herding, tourism, and jobs in a recently founded distillery.

The Chessmen (Lewis Trilogy #3) by Peter May ★★★★☆

A moody murder mystery, the third in a series

Following the death of his eight-year-old son at the hands of a hit-and-run driver, Fin MacLeod has relocated from Edinburgh to his ancestral home on Lewis near the village of Ness.  An experienced Detective Inspector in the Lothian and Borders constabulary, Fin has left behind both the police and his wife in hopes of reuniting with his childhood love and the son he never knew, now eighteen years of age and a father himself. Fin has taken a job as director of security for the huge estate that dominates the island, with no intention of venturing any further into the realm of law enforcement. Then circumstances intervene.

The story hinges on Fin and Whistler’s discovery of the wreckage of an airplane in a dry lakebed deep in the hills of the island. Inside the plane is the body of an old schoolmate who had gained fame as the leader of a rock band, then disappeared in his plane off the coast of Scotland eighteen years previously. The ensuing tale is suspenseful and surprising to the end, with a generous dollop of atmosphere.

About the author

Peter May a Scotsman now living in France, is best known as a screenwriter in the UK for his work on television. In addition to the Lewis Trilogy, May has written nineteen novels, including six books in his China Thrillers series.

For more great reading

This is one of the many Mysteries and thrillers set in Scotland that I’ve reviewed here.

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