All the Wrong Moves
By Sasha Chapin. (Doubleday, 217 pages, $24.95.)
Sasha Chapin is bipolar, suffers from aphantasia, does drugs and has an uncontrollable addiction. In other words, he's more interesting than you and therefore secured a contract to write a memoir.
In Chapin's case, his addiction is chess, which drives him to pass up sex, skip meals and pretty much blow off work. Hence the title, "All The Wrong Moves: A memoir about chess, love, and ruining everything."
Chapin takes pains to portray himself in an unflattering light. Then he doubles down by populating his memoir with a drug-using stripper girlfriend, a disgustingly foul-mouthed online opponent, and other misfits and oddballs.
The premise of the book is that his dormant fondness for chess is suddenly revived when he plays a game against a chess hustler on a street in Kathmandu. His chess devotion instantly rages out of control. He sinks into marathon sessions of online play. He turns down a booty call from a Tinder date, lives on junk food and otherwise withdraws from normal life into the depths of the game. In the end, he achieves his goal of playing astonishingly well at a big tournament in Los Angeles, despite his mediocre rating and the handicap of aphantasia — the inability to conjure up mental images in his mind, which is a decided disadvantage for a chess player.
And after the last round, he simply walks away from chess, apparently with no withdrawal symptoms. There, that wasn't so difficult, was it?
Dennis J. McGrath
Dead Man's Mistress
By David Housewright. (Minotaur Books, 306 pages. $26.99.)
Award-winning Twin Cities author David Housewright has spun out another suspenseful regional crime mystery, this one based along the shoreline of Lake Superior. Up North in Grand Marais, some valuable paintings by a master artist are missing, and Rushmore McKenzie, a former St. Paul cop-turned-investigative adventurer, has been dispatched by a prestigious client to find them.
Lacking formal private-eye credentials and armed with biased information from virtually all of his sources, McKenzie stumbles through a dangerous investigation filled with a notorious affair, counterfeit art dealers and serial fraudsters, a brazen Hollywood film crew and a half-dozen women who want to get him into bed (sorry, girls, no-go). As is typical in a McKenzie novel, it's peppered with regional references — in this case from Minnesota's North Shore and Thunder Bay, Ontario — to bring it all home for loyal readers.
The drama is unending, with not-so-clean and not-so-smart small-town deputies investigating a local man's suicide (or it is murder?), a rich family battling for rights to the stolen artwork, and the dogged film crew intent on capitalizing on the scandalous story. It's all painted against a backdrop of greed and deceit — in short, all of the quirky antagonists and character flaws that Housewright has so much fun exploiting for his audience.
The story's tight pacing is laced with McKenzie's self-effacing humor, his conscientious "inner voice" chiming in, often when it's too late to get him out of his latest scrape. As narrator, McKenzie's witty and irreverent dialogue holds it all together.
If Housewright is an acquired taste, I acquired it after the first chapter of my first McKenzie novel. The author is prolific enough to feed an all-you-can-read appetite and entertaining enough to double for dessert. "Dead Man's Mistress" is No. 16 in the series.
Try the McKenzie Diet. I highly recommend it.