User:Ljlego/Checkmate: A Novel

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Checkmate: A Novel, often shortened to simply Checkmate, is a 1999 mystery thriller by Robert Grant that follows chess grandmaster Harry Thurman III on his "action-packed"[1] adventure revolving around the apparent murder-suicide of two fellow grandmasters. Much of the first half of the book is devoted to Thurman's quest to find someone who can tolerate his chess metaphors for long enough to assist him in finding the person whom he believes to have murdered both of his friends while simultaneously taking pains to drag on as long as possible. The second half of the novel concentrates on finding the actual killer, leading up a shocking denouement in which nobody cares about chess anyway[2]. Lauded by critics for its supposedly "taut pacing"[3] and "mind-boggling twists"[4], it nonetheless never entered the New York Times bestseller list except for a one-day stint at number 1 when the clerk accidentally sorted the Excel spreadsheet in descending order.

edit Plot

The novel opens with Thurman III (referred to as Hank in this scene) engaged in a fierce chess match with Remington Hadlock, Jr. (Remy). Here the men begin conversing using their moves as overwrought and forced metaphors for their lives. It is clear that, though both men heartily wish to defeat the other in the most crushing and embarrassing way possible (Remy at one point expresses an interest in Hank "moving the pawn at g5 like the stupid twat" that Hank is so that Remy would be able to checkmate him), the two don't thoroughly hate each other.

After Thurman defeats Hadlock, the two go out for drinks. Hadlock expresses anger at his loss, which was apparently born of an "elementary mistake" and taken advantage of by "sheer luck." One pint later, the two are incoherent, and they both stumble back to the hotel at which they are staying during the tournament in which they are apparently participating. The next morning, a hungover Thurman stumbles into Hadlock's room in search of some Alka-Seltzer and is confronted by the gruesome sight of Hadlock and Russian fellow grandmaster Georg Ulrich, both bloodied and obviously quite dead. Also naked.

Using a complex mix of deduction and jumping to radical conclusions, Thurman determines that the two were both murdered, but is then at a loss for a reason why anyone would murder two chess grandmasters and then pose them in the grotesque Romeo & Romeo scene in which they were found. He communicates his suspicions to Detective Hector Ramirez[5], whom the reader has previously seen expressing some suspicions of his own. A detective hardened by his many years on the streets[6], Ramirez immediately suspects Thurman as injecting himself into the investigation, an international sign of guilt. Not-so-subtly treating him as a suspect, Ramirez forces Thurman to flee the scene, as "[Thurman] realized the police would be no help. He would have to go at it alone. He was a lone pawn, dangling in the ether, the first move made." Enlisting the help of a distracted bellhop, Thurman flees clinging to the sole clue as to Hadlock's previous whereabouts, the receipt to a strip club stamped at 2:37 AM.

This clue sets them off on the trail of about five clues, interspersed with ample banter, occasional police involvement (usually when it seems as if the climax is one clue away), and dubious chess instruction. Finally, the final clue leads to a disgraced nationalist from the former Soviet bloc whom Ulrich angered by associating with the British Hadlock. He had seen the two together in the strip club and proceeded to kill them both in their hotel room while they were engaging in the secret love which they had apparently been sharing for many years. Nonetheless, nobody listens to Thurman ("'Keep your deductions on the chessboard and let the experts solve the crimes,' said Ramirez."), and the crime is officially ruled a suicide. However, Thurman abandons the chess circuit to kill the nationalist, who, in the final scene, is found slumped dead over a chessboard. The black pieces which he was playing are checkmated by the white pieces, though no evidence of a second party is found at the scene. Here the book ends, with the Russian detective whispering, "Checkmate."[7]

edit Influences

Grant, who got his start writing instruction manuals for IKEA, cites the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's seminal character Sherlock Holmes as an influence for Thurman[8].

Cquote1 I just thought it would be mind-blowingly original to take this character, an intellectual character, give him an earnest but comparatively dense partner, throw him a nearly impossible-to-solve mystery, and have him solve it. Still, I must admit that the deductive talents portrayed by Doyle through Holmes may have had a minute influence on this work. Cquote2

—Robert Grant, Playboy (there's text? Who knew?)

Grant also admits to being inspired by Truman Capote, to whom he refers as the single most important influence for the book. Though this claim may have once been baffling, as his writing style exhibits not even the slightest echoes of Capote's wit, verbal irony, or basic grasp of the English language beyond a fifth grade level, any confusion was cleared by Grant in a 2002 press conference during the book tour for his aborted second novel, Fun With Guns & Incest[9]:

Cquote1 Truman Capote was gay. So were Hadlock and Ulrich. End of story. Actually, no, end of story would have to involve me saying "checkmate," so "checkmate." End of story. Cquote2

edit Controversy

This novel generated absolutely no legitimate controversy whatsoever, due to its being incredibly dull and mostly formulaic. That, however, did not stop Tipper Gore from sounding off against its "glorification of vigilantism, which, even though unrelated to the music censorship group that [she] once sponsored and to which [she is] now completely unconnected and therefore unimportant, is bad and therefore not good."[10] Various musicians, whose old habits apparently die hard, protested her protest. Frank Zappa, for example, invented the notes T, P, R, and O, and used them as a counterpoint to his melody using the invented notes V, I, and L for his kazoo concerto "Aria of Badness." Dee Snider, by contrast, smiled at a group of small children, causing three of them to die of suicide.

These events led to Gore's retraction of her protest, a move which Democrats derided as being too lenient. Republicans, jumping on the chance to slander somebody, pointed to Gore's "flip-flop" as "just another in the dirty pinko commie socialist piece-of-shit Democrats' long line of changers-of-opinion." These strong words sparked national rioting, leading to a coalition army assembled by the European Union invading the US in order to "quell the insurrection."[11] However, nobody in the US took too kindly to this violation. In an official White House statement, the American sentiment was captured:

Cquote1 It is not the job of countries to act as the police for the world. Baseless invasion of a country due to conditions that are not to a country's leader's liking is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Cquote2

The European forces immediately withdrew, but the United States and many European powers remain with their nuclear missiles trained on each other to this day

edit Reactions

edit Critical

Cquote1 Robert Grant's book reaches for the starts, and achieves most admirably this loftiest of goals Cquote2

—Gobert Rant, Amazon.com review

The above quote is what mathematicians like to call an anomaly: an inexplicable deviance from the general curve of a function; that is, some idiot saying something completely wrong compared to the rest of the world.

edit Footnotes

  1. Dust jacket, Hardcover, 1st Ed.
  2. Spoiler alert
  3. Greg Heck, Alabamee Digest
  4. Charles McGrath, New York Times? Seriously?
  5. Diversity in a book about chess? Affirmative action...
  6. And his 13 kids
  7. Spoiler alert redux
  8. Bringing the count of characters influenced by Holmes well past traditional numerical notation
  9. Reportedly a tale about a bunny embarking on a cross-country adventure to find some lost carrots, Grant ran into some trouble when he stubbornly refused to change the title to something both more appropriate for the age group to whom it was targeted and more related to the subject matter.
  10. NB: Tipper Gore did not actually say this; the quotes are meant only to lend legitimacy to the statement
  11. Actually, "quell ze insurrection," but there's no need to mock the EU for choosing France as its leader in this situation
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