The Lewis Trilogy by Peter May

This trilogy includes The Black House, The Lewis Man and The Chess Men. Peter May “was an award-winning journalist at the age of twenty-one” and “he left newspapers for television and screenwriting, creating three prime-time British drama series”. “Peter now lives  in France where he focuses on writing novels”. (from the bio inside The Chess Men)

These are stories of considerable interest but I found myself most attracted by their setting in the Hebrides Islands and considered the plot an added bonus. (Which it was of course!)

Th epigraphs for The Black House include an A.E.Housman from “Blue Remembered Hills”:

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I wentThe Black House
And cannot come again.”

There is also a Gaelic proverb: Three things that come without asking: fear, love and jealousy.

In this first book Fin Macleod is a cop in Edinburgh and is sent back to Lewis Island to solve a murder there and, of course, journey into his own difficult history on the islands.

The epigraph for The Lewis Man is from “The Old Fools” by Philip Larkin:

That is where they live:
Not here and now, but where all happened once.

From the Prologue of The Lewis Man: “On this storm-washed island three hours off the north-west coast of Scotland, what little soil exists gives the people their food and their heat. It also takes their dead. and, very occasionally, as today, gives one up.”  The people have gone peat-cutting and young Annag’s eyes follow her brothers “down to the fallen peat bank and the arm that lies stretched out towards her, leathery skin like brown parchment, fingers curled as if holding an invisible ball. One leg lies twisted over the other, a head tipped towards the ditch as if in search of a lost life, black holes where the eyes should have been.
For a moment, she is lost in a sea of incomprehension, before realisation washes over her, and the scream is whipped from her mouth by the wind.”The Lewis Man

And so begins The Lewis Man in which Fin has left the police in Edinburgh and returned to Lewis and is working on restoring his parents’ croft. A DNA test determines that the corpse above is a familial match to the father of Fin’s childhood sweetheart.

“Gunn saw the vehicles parked at the roadside from some distance away. The sky was black and blue, brooding, contused, rolling in off the ociean low and unbroken. The first spits of rain were smeared across his windscreen by the intermittent passage of its wipers. The pewter of the ocean itself was punctuated by the whites of breaking waves ten or fifteen feet high, and the solitary blue flashing light of the police car next to the ambulance was swallowed into insignificance by the vastness of the landscape.

Beyond the vehicles, the harled houses of Siader huddled against the prevailing weather, expectant and weary, but accustomed to its relentless assault. Not a single tree broke the horizon. Just lines of rotting fenceposts along the roadside, and the rusting remains of tractors and cars in deserted yards. Blasted shrubs showing brave green tips clung on with stubborn roots to thin soil in anticipation of better days to come, and a sea of bog cotton shifted in ripples and currents like water in the wind.”

The Chess MenThis book ends with Whistler and Fin and the third book, The Chess Men is all about Fin and Whistler and their later lives. The epigraph is:

‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.      -the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, xlix

This final part of Fin’s story is as much about music and the Celtic band that Fin was closely associated with in his early university years and his friend Whistler who of all the group was the one who was gifted in so many ways but the one who chose not to attend university and to make the island his home. The chess men were larger than life chess men that he, Whistler, had carved and who are an intimate part of the story in this third volume.

Early in this book, Whistler and Fin are out camping and discover a lost loch which Whistler explains might have drained into another loch and was likely connected with a bog burst. The weight of the water in the higher loch can burst through a layer of amphiloblite and all the material drains down into into a deeper valley. When Fin examines the bottom of the lock with Whistler’s binoculars and sites a “small, single-engined aircraft, cradled among a cluster of boulders, and lying at a slight angle. It appeared to be pretty much intact. The windows of the cockpit were opaque with mud and slime, but the red and white of the fuselage were clearly visible. As were the black-painted letters of its call-sign.”

They know the call-sign and so they go to have a look. And that is where it all begins. A fantastic trio for those with an interest in mysteries which have settings as characters and characters who are of considerable interest!

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