In Mann’s (Angel Landing, 2013) thriller, the second in a series, world peace may be attainable through a series of games both literal and metaphorical on a global scale.
Former U.S. intelligence agent and lawyer Mark Jamison has an idea on how to end the Great Game, the Britain-Russia struggle for domination in the Middle East and Central Asia. With the hope of achieving religious unity in the Middle East, he suggests to the Vatican a game or series of games as a way to handle negotiations. History shows that matters have long been settled with a chessboard, often the more uncommon and intricate Byzantine chess. Now, finding lost Byzantine treasure or assistance from the mysterious Game Master, whom Jamison might know, could hold the keys to the games’ successful outcome. But, as a flashback reveals, Jamison has been part of the “global chessboard” for more than 30 years, and he may know so many secrets that he’s put himself and wife, Sarah, in danger. Mann’s novel, like his debut featuring Jamison, has a rich historical backdrop. It’s even more prominent this time around, as the bulk of the story follows Jamison from 1980 to present day, meeting and befriending figures like Russian President Vladimir Putin and living through real-world events such as 9/11. There are also snippets of ancient history, including relevant details of the Byzantine Empire. But Mann adds suspense and intrigue to the plot as well: Jamison, traveling the world from East Africa to China, picks up enough info that, for example, knowing too much about a U.S. oil company gets him abducted and forcefully interrogated. Such dense history saturating the pages doesn’t leave much room for lighter fare, especially humor, which is all but nonexistent. Even particulars on Sarah or the couple’s two children, Adam and Adrienne, are limited, which is disappointing since Sarah had a more significant role in the preceding book. Nevertheless, Mann knows how to deliver an espionage story, and it’s clear that chess is tantamount to war strategizing and negotiation tactics. It’s likewise fitting that Jamison must rely on wit and reasoning over physical prowess.
Readers may be left wanting to know more about the protagonist, but he leads a promising and undeniably engrossing story.