Chess and murder: do they go hand-in-hand? Hollywood has produced several films in which chess plays the central role in a murder mystery. Books of the same type or a little harder to come by. That is why I was excited when I came across Even Dead Men Play Chess by Michael Weitz. Caution, there are spoilers ahead!
Ray Gordon leads a simple life. He is a chess teacher and is on his way to give a lesson to his good friend Walter Kelly. Walter is a man gifted with woodworking skills whose affinity for chess has grown in his later years. Ray agrees to teach Walter in exchange for the promise of a customized wooden chessboard. Walter’s death brings the chessboard out earlier than expected and leads to a revealed secret on par with the hidden mysteries of The DaVinci Code or National Treasure.
Ray Gordon is not a detective. The tools of the chessboard are his weapon against the injustice of the world. This was my favorite part of the character and flow of the story. Ray is someone within reach of the average person, chess player or not. Many people have felt the burning urge to ignore conclusions of accidents or natural death because the circumstances were too unusual to ignore. Ray is a conduit for the average person (and chess player) to journey along on a thrilling and dangerous mission.
In addition, the author’s brilliant use of chess terminology and analogy makes the story especially engrossing for students of the game. One of these is the inclusion of a classic game known in popular chess culture as The Evergreen Game. Evergreen was played by Adolf Anderssen and Jacques Dufresne in 1852 Berlin. It was not initially recognized as an exceptional game but gained notoriety over the years with commentary and annotations by various grandmasters. Here is the game in its entirety:
Chess puzzles and human puzzles emerge to answer the questions surrounding Walter’s death and to expose a web of lies and betrayal. Mystery stories and chess books can be hard to pull off, but Michael Weitz pulls it off with a powerful discovered checkmate in Even Dead Men Play Chess.
Check it out on Amazon in paperback and Kindle format.