2020 Silver Falchion Finalist
By Bradley Harper
Seventh Street Books
Publication Date: September 2019
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Review by Liz Gatterer
A Queen’s Gambit is a well-known opening move in chess where a bishop or pawn is sacrificed to save the queen. In Bradley Harper’s new novel of the same name, we are treated to a tale that—move by move—proceeds like a champion chess match. Tension building with each opponent’s move. But will the gambit payoff? Who might be sacrificed, and will the Queen survive?
In Bradley Harper’s first novel A Knife in the Fog (winner of the 2019 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award), the main characters were Arthur Conan Doyle (as of yet un-knighted) and Professor Joseph Bell – the real-life author of Sherlock Holmes and the real-life inspiration for the character Sherlock Holmes respectively—and the fictious, but fabulous Margaret Hawkness. This wonderful tale features Margaret Hawkness, with just a taste of Prof. Bell. Doyle has killed off Sherlock Holmes (much to the disappointment of Queen and country) and is busy writing other stories. But Prof. Bell has an intriguing proposition for Harkness and together they take a brief trip to Germany to assist in uncovering a bit of espionage. After which, Bell returns to Edinburgh leaving Harkness on her own in England. But Harkness is a wonderful character and more than capable of carrying this story all by herself! In the novel Harper credits her as being the inspiration for Irene Adler in the original Sherlock Holmes stories, which is a fun little bit of surrealism since Hawkness is fictional and was more likely inspired (at least to a small degree) by the Irene Adler character but I happen to have it on good authority that the true inspiration for Margaret is real and much closer to home… but I’ll keep that a mystery for now. That is the fun of historical fiction – bits of facts laced with bits of fantasy. It is one of my favorite genres.
Bradley’s writing style is very fast paced and witty. He expertly weaves his factual details into the story so well the reader doesn’t realize how much true knowledge they are being taught. He reminds me of an expert docent from a museum that not only shows you some artifact but has engaging stories about that object and peoples from that time that cause you to happily stand there for hours listening to him. His character development is spot on, with even minor characters being well formed and not easily forgotten.
Does the Queen’s Gambit succeed? You will have to read it to find out. I highly recommend this book and look forward to more form Harper.
I had the privilege to listen to this as an audiobook as performed by Danielle Cohen. She did a phenomenal job employing multiple accents that truly brought the book to life. I highly recommend this format.
Liz Gatterer attended Tulane University while living in New Orleans. It was there that she first began working with authors in the printing industry. Originally from Upstate New York, she moved to Nashville with her husband to pursue their careers (his being music). Three (absolutely fabulous) children later, she has returned to the working world in the industry she loves. She currently lives in Spring Hill with said husband and children, dogs, cats, and various other creatures. The necessity of multitasking has led her to an addiction to audio books – but, when able to, she still prefers to curl up with a good book (and a child in her lap).