We are a kultured lot at KCC, what with the dramatic and dystopian daubs of Bernard "The Artist" Charnley; the mellifluous cello performances of Andy B; the emotive am dram thesping of Joshua; and, top of the tree, the sophisticated and subtle scribblings of Ben. And it is the last of these which we now need to celebrate, as Ben's second book, and first work of fiction, "The Greenbecker Gambit", has just been published (Conrad Press, £9.99, available now from Chess & Bridge.)
As the title suggests, chess plays a major role in the novel, and I read it with considerable interest, albeit with three hats on - first as a chess player; second as a (largely retired) literary man; and third, as a potential libel victim. Because I had a strong suspicion that Ben might have included some thinly veiled portraits of the KCC membership. And it turns out I was right! Clearly the central character - an aggressive, self-delusional, alcoholic, dysfunctional, misanthropic, paranoid, sexually inadequate pyromaniac - could have been based on any of us, but regretfully I do not think a libel action would have any chance of success, as he's also a once-great chess player, so at its heart there's clearly no resemblance to any KCC member. But never mind that, because several of us do make a more explicit appearance in the book, as our names have been allocated to various random characters.
Now, there's quite a market these days in paying (usually for charity) to get your name into a work of literature. It's especially prevalent in crime novels, where you pays your money and takes your chance - you might get a name check as a spotty youth on a bus; or as a murder victim; or - if you hit the jackpot - as a serial killer, when you could go down in history like Hannibal Lecter! Ben, in his typically generous way, has gone down a similar route, but without apparently extracting any payment from anyone first. Missed a trick there, Ben!
So never mind a conventional book review, let's just investigate which KCC names have made it into "The Greenbecker Gambit" - and see if any of us have grounds to commence legal action!
Quite rightly, I am the first to appear (the club hierarchy must be respected!) on page 28 when Phil Page turns round a losing position against the hero at Hastings. When you think about it, this all makes sense. By combining me and Phil you would get the complete chess player. I would bring the ability, the competitive spirit and the charisma, while Phil would contribute height.
Next up we get a mention of "the English number one, Adrian Mottram"! Really, Ben, of all the people in our club to be England's top player ...……. Maybe money did change hands, after all?! Though it has to be said that Mottram is a bit of a bully, so maybe it didn't. Or not enough?!
And then comes a wave of references to KCC greats - though by now it is page 152 and I want you to remember that I made a first appearance on page 28! Anyway, now we get: "They were all stood around the board ….. Mottram, Page, Johnson, Shurrock, Pink and Lam, my main rivals for the British that year." (What's Mike Johnson doing in there?) Don't think any of us can reasonably take exception to that mention. Except, of course, those that didn't get a name check! Losers!!
But quickly we then get a very unsettling incident when Mike Webb, "the new great hope of English chess" is loudly abused by the hero for losing a winning position and responds by taking a swing at him. Webb subsequently flees the tournament in tears, never to play again. Don't follow that lead please, Rod! Or, indeed, Mike!!
And talking of Mike, immediately we have a trip to a curry house, where the central character joins Page, Cram (who he?) and Donnelly. Although the hero can't stand us, we are "at least okay players". Thanks, Ben! I, or rather Phil Page, then do/does the decent thing (because that's the kind of guy I am/he is) and ask Greenbecker whether he is an alcoholic, which I think shows the right degree of compassion. But I don't like the fact that it turns out I am a vegetarian. If that's not character assassination, I don't know what is. All is forgiven, though, when I end up in a list of players destroyed by Bobby Fischer that includes Spassky, Petrosian, Korchnoi, Tal, Geller, Gligoric, Larsen and Taimanov. But unfortunately also Mottram! Still, never mind, that Phil Page was some player.
And then a surprising, and very one-off, appearance for "my second, Shearsby" before I take centre stage again on page 199. "Page once told me, [poker] is not beautiful like chess". Really, the more I think about it, the more it becomes clear that this Page character is the main figure in the novel. Move over Tennessee Greenbecker, the second edition will probably be retitled "The Page Gambit".
Hopefully the description of a random character called Paul as "never ... the sharpest tool" carries no connection to anyone at KCC. The absence of a surname does leave some room for doubt, though!
And that is it, apart from a final reference to Mottram as a "useless blagger and nothing more". A harsh but fair note on which to end!
So, by my reckoning, that's 8 of us who get a name check - the same number as there are current KCC World Surname Champions! But if its any consolation for those who have not been immortalised, we all get an indirect acknowledgement when Ben gives thanks to "everyone at Kenilworth Chess Club".
"The Greenbecker Gambit" is a great imaginative achievement by Ben, and one which I hope everyone (over the age of 18!) will read. Ben has sailed a fine line but I think he may just escape without being sued by anyone at KCC. However, if Brian Eley ever gets to read it ……!!