by Dorothy Dunnett

Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson

Sixth and last in the Lymond Chronicles series, Checkmate is a page-turner readers may regret diving into if they have pressing obligations elsewhere. As it opens, Lymond is in France, where he has been smuggled against his will and where he is soon coerced into serving Scotland's French allies as they attempt to drive the English out of the captured French territory of Calais. In return, the French promise to arrange the one thing he wants more than returning to his supremely dangerous service in Russia: a divorce from the woman he loves.

This is only the beginning of the complications in this devilishly complicated tale, as readers of the first five Lymond novels already know. Who is Lymond's real father? Is the woman Marthe his half-sister? His whole sister? Will the answers to these questions save Lymond's precarious faith in himself or destroy it?

Through the first five novels, Lymond's personal courage has never been in doubt. Though his integrity has been questioned, readers who have made it this far know that, if he has led his followers into perilous situations, in and out of warfare, he has also strived - sometimes by highly unconventional means - to protect their lives and honor to the best of his ability. Now comes his most serious test, as the hard truths he has learned or begun to suspect about himself cause him to doubt his ability to shield the people for whom he most cares. More devastatingly than ever before, events begin to spiral out of his control.

This final Lymond novel is about the sacrifices people with the greatest capacity to love will make for those they love. Checkmate is well titled: someone has finally emerged who can match Lymond in wit, intelligence, courage and integrity, someone with the ability to overturn his best-laid plans. The contest is gripping from start to finish, a fitting finale to a series justly cherished by connoisseurs of historical fiction. (1975, 581 pages)

More about Checkmate at Powell's Books or

Other historical novels about family mysteries:

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (2008), about a little girl abandoned on a ship to Australia in 1913 and the mystery of where she came from. See review or more info at Powell's Books

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (2012), about a man who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote island in 1918 with his young wife, and what happens when a dead man and a living baby are washed up on their shore. See review or more info at Powell's Books

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick (2009), about a wealthy businessman in Wisconsin and the scheming woman who responds to his advertisement for a wife in 1907. More info

Nonfiction about the French and English conflicts over Calais:

Calais: An English Town in France, 1347-1558 by Susan Rose (2008). More info

The Calais Garrison: War and Military Service in England, 1436-1558 by David Grummitt (2008). More info

Calais Under English Rule by Sandeman George Amelius Crawshay (1908). More info


The Fall of Calais, an article by Richard Cavendish from History Today

Back to Novels of the Renaissance

Back to Directory of Book Reviews

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.