Saturday 25 May 2019

Pawn again – May's long day's journey into knight could happen to a bishop

The Chessmen is the final book in a trilogy set on the island of Lewis in the Scottish archipelago called the Outer Hebrides.

May was a prize-winning journalist at the age of 21 and published his first novel, The Reporter, just five years later. Asked by the BBC to turn the novel into a primetime 13-part TV series about a newspaper called 'The Standard', he left journalism to concentrate on television and has garnered more than 1,000 TV credits since then.

Among these credits was a highly acclaimed and long-running Gaelic language drama serial, Machair, shot entirely on location on Lewis and broadcast with English subtitles.

This series was the inspiration for the Lewis trilogy, which began with Blackhouse, an eerie, moody and gripping tale of how the past can come crashing into the present with disastrous effect set in the wild and unforgiving landscape of Lewis.

Despite May's track record as a bestselling crime writer – his six-book China series has been a big hit all around the world – Blackhouse was turned down by all of Britain's top publishing houses.

May, who has lived in France for more than a decade, published it in a French translation in 2009. It was hailed as a masterpiece there and won a number of important literary awards.

The English rights were picked up by Quercus, and May's second in the series – The Lewis Man – spent 18 weeks in the British hardback bestsellers list.

As in the two previous books, the central character in this final part of the trilogy, The Chessmen, is Fin Macleod, who left Lewis as a young man to become a police officer in Glasgow.

Retired from the force, his personal life in tatters, a conflicted Fin returns to Lewis to head security on the largest game estate on the island charged with stamping out a spate of organised poaching.

But when Fin and his childhood friend Whistler Macaskill, a free spirit and skilled poacher, discover a long-lost wrecked plane, it revives memories of their shared past when they were part of a successful Celtic folk rock band.

Fin realises that his friend Whistler is possessed of a long-buried secret, a secret that some desperate people will do anything, including murder, to protect.

May's pellucid prose and his clever plot gives vivid life to a harsh and rugged landscape and an equally hard-hewn community.

Myles McWeeney

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