Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet: Letter Z is for ZUGZWANG by Ronan Bennet

I have a confession to make. I read this book three years ago and yet I have no memory of it except that I know I enjoyed it because I listed it in my journal with a big red check. The name of the book popped into my consciousness (with not much else) when the Letter Z came along - as it inevitably would - in the Crime Fiction Alphabet Weekly Meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, MYSTERIES IN PARADISE.

I no longer keep a running tab of what I read because I list the books here on the blog. (But I miss the physicality of a journal so I'm debating going back to it.) Anyway, I looked the book up on my library web page and nothing rang a bell. What can I say? This happens sometimes. Actually, a lot of the time. But I just pick up the fragments of memory and move on.

So, long story, short, I'm going to use the library's synopsis to shed a guiding light on this historical thriller by Ronan Bennet.

What is ZUGZWANG? Well, you may ask.

Turns out it's a situational chess term - the one where no matter what move the player makes it can only worsen his position on the board. Sounds like a quicksand sort of thing to me. So, good title for this mystery set in 1914 Tsarist Russia on the eve of an International Chess Tournament.

When two murders occur within weeks of each other as St. Petersburg readies for the tournament...
psychoanalyst Dr. Otto Spethmann, his young daughter and his patients find themselves pawns in a nightmarish game of political intrigue.

...Despite plenty of the usual suspects - Bolsheviks, pro-German reactionaries, Polish nationalists - the police start grilling...a respected psychoanalyst and his eighteen year old daughter. The doctor's protestations of innocence cut no ice with the mysterious police Inspector Mintimer Lychev who shares the doctor's love of chess. The only hope the Doctor has, is to use his analytical skills to crack the case while attempting to keep the mysterious inspector from check-mating his efforts.

Roiling with class tensions and rife with danger, St. Petersburg, during the twilight of the last Czar serves as the chess board on which Irish author Ronan Bennett stages this heady historical thriller.

Sounds good to me.
And I don't even play chess.

This is one of several historical mysteries set in Russia that I happen, coincidentally, to have read within the past couple of years. It's a setting I'm still not completely comfortable with. No matter how much I read about it, it still seems coldly exotic and unfamiliar, but I know I enjoyed the books enormously (my journal tells me that) - though it's true, some of them are remembered more than others.


  1. Sounds like a good one!

    Sorry you didn't enjoy Shadows of the Wind. I'll try not to be devastated that we don't agree :-) Maybe it helps that I don't know Spanish (except for what I picked up on Sesame Street....). All I can say is that if you didn't like Shadows, then I definitely think it's a good idea if you don't pick up Angel's Game.

  2. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who didn't like a book everyone else liked. It's an odd feeling. But it's bound to happen once in a while.

    I will not pick up ANGEL'S GAME. :)

  3. I still keep an actual journal Yvette but I only record author, title, and date so it also contains books I have no memory of.

    Thanks for your participation in this year's CFA and for the interesting contributions you've added to the mix.

  4. Thanks Kerrie! And thanks for doing such a great job hosting.
    It was a pleasure to participate. :)

    I miss writing in my little journals, to tell the truth. But still they don't seem to jog my memory except for titles and authors. Sometimes I just blank out what occurred between the first page and the last. :)

  5. Mysteries are my downfall.
    And Russian mysteris?
    Plus a shrink!

  6. Paris Breakfasts:
    Thanks for dropping by. Yeah, Russian Mysteries. I like 'em. Though they are ultra mysterious and rather chilly. And the names can be confusing. And everyone is very grim and dour and full of angst....

    Hmmm, maybe I don't like them as much as I thought. Ha!

  7. I will have to remember the title of this book the next time I play scrabble! :)

  8. Pat: It would be great if Scrabble had TWO Z's. You could win the game from the getgo. Ha! I play Lexulous on Facebook with several friends and the other day I had my hightest total for one word ever - 127 points. But it was a bland word: acquaint. I just hit the right places on the board. :)

    Lexulous is like Scrabble but it has 8 letters instead of 7.


Your comment will appear after I take a look.