Agatha Christie awake and return! You have a rival in the chess world, one Andrew Soltis, a premier columnist for Chess Life for many years, a NY Post chess columnist and author of many chess texts, and an accomplished tournament player. He has written a book, “Los Voraces 2019’’ (McFarland) or shall we say a chess satire wrapped in an engaging mystery that competes with the very best of whodunits.
“Los Voraces’’ concerns a tournament heavily endowed in the will of a deceased wealthy businessman that provides abundant and irresistible appearance fees and prizes for the greatest Grandmasters, who then play in the 2800 rated range. Los Voraces is a tiny town somewhere in New Mexico virtually cut off from civilization. The tycoon’s will provides funding that will attract the world’s greatest Grandmasters. The tournament must be private. It is held annually to host a collection of dedicated, in some cases narcissistic and omnipotent, achievers, including the world champion Grushevsky. They come from various nations and engulf this small town. The narrator receives excellent pay as arbiter of the tournament, and apparently as caretaker of the sometimes childish, venomous, and unmannered group of geniuses.
The arbiter manages pretty well until, prior to the commencement of the tourney, the Grandmaster Attila Gabor from Hungary falls to the floor with a fatal heart attack. The unpopular Gabor was not going to be missed by his contemporaries, and his death swelled the prize fund. No problem there, except the narrator seemed to find that odd pills had been substituted for Gabor’s heart medicine. The atmosphere turns acrid, as a groupie finds a coral snake in her purse and goes on to heaven. Then a Dutch Grandmaster expires as he seals a move for adjournment. The arbiter, nevertheless, keeps control of his flock, who are given to such eccentricities as agreeing to a draw the night before and then shaking hands at the tournament without making a move – a no-move draw.
The narrator not only reports on the progress of the tournament but also includes the chess games, including a draw in which eight queens appear on the board. It is best for the reader to postpone review of the games until finished with the narration, or else the mystery will take longer to read than “War and Peace.’’ Soltis’s descriptions of the players, their habits, their machinations, and the chess world are salted with wry prose, anecdotes, proverbs, and excellent quotes that make this a remarkable satire. He cites former world champion Tigran Petrosian as stating that every chess position has a weakness, even if it is imperceptible. Who can quarrel with that?
As for who killed these innocent people – no, we will not tell.