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7. Januar 2003
Tanya Jones: Trotter's Bottom


An original book – announced as a crime story but turns out to be a comedy, if not a joke. Stylistically it sways wildly from a Shakespearian style to Miss Marple, from people’s comedy (Volkskomödie) to a view of modern society. A good book? A bad one? No idea really! But a lot of fun, you can rest assured.

Zhukowsky, a veteran Russian Grandmaster thinks his English wife has been murdered. In the conservative village of Rambleton this is an unprecedented and unwelcome happening. Only Ophelia O., alias Oliver, a lawyer, mother of six, and much more, believes the story. She starts to make inquiries – which means that she stumbles from one calamity to another.

Each one of them is part of a little story with many people involved. In fact, the book depends upon these little stories. It is like an impressionist painting: the whole comes together only when viewed from a certain distance, seemingly working out only at the end, when nearly all participants – the centenarian nun as well as the village PC Plod, the famous Grandmaster and the murderer, the upright solicitor and the war veteran and umpteen more – come together at the chess tournament, where – as in a Shakespearian climax – the bombshell is dropped.

Everywhere in this chaos, in this affectionate - domestic knit-work of story telling, where no-one can grasp any more whether all the threads, when spun together, create a piece of tapestry or whether a stitch is lost, chess pops up, which very often leads to a humorous situation. The main pattern is chequered black and white.

There are:

  • "chess groupies" (" who would never give their love to any men below International Master level" – good news for IM’s upwards),
  • sensible discussions about women’s chess (Girls are good at lots of important things – Like? – Chess, she suggested – Oh, chess… We were talking about important things.)
  • terrified geniuses who gave up playing chess after a series of humiliating defeats and have turned to hanging around with the groupies,
  • old fashioned chess fanatics who "continued their twenty-five-year-long discussion on the King’s Indian”,
  • or chess machos ("Blackburn was a man… a real man. Drank like a man, fought like a man, played chess like a man. No wonder the nebbichs couldn’t stand him. … If a man’s not got the stamina to spend all night over the chess board, he has no business calling himself a chess player at all”,
  • and Ophelia even suffers a mystical chess vision: ("She looked down the tables towards her daughter, and was struck suddenly by the hundreds of pieces, and thousands of squares, no board showing the same position, each pawn poisoned or active, the servant of it’s master's skill, hazard or inattention. For a moment she saw what Mother Thérèse had meant by ‘the Dance’, felt herself caught up by the magic of the ancient game, bedazzled by the forces of will, desire and intellect which were concentrated in the tiny figures”).
  • but mostly there are mischievous dialogues: "Interested in chess? A pretty girl like you?" and so on.

How could it be otherwise in a book with chapter headings like "An English Opening", "The Moscow Variation" or "The Corkscrew Countergambit".

Somehow during "Opening Preparation" and "Bishops Ending" all is solved, the culprit is unmasked, and with him much typical English conventionality and pedantry. It all happens during a very popular local chess tournament, of which the grandchildren will have something to talk about.

In the author’s words: "…it required close inspection and a degree of lateral thinking which was, thankfully, quite common among chess players". It is this sort of banter with which the story abounds.

Indeed it is true what was written in the Peterborough Evening Telegraph: "Tanya Jones must have a tremendous sense of humour. She does have a tremendous talent.” She would have had much more success if the "Daily Telegraph” were to have written this. So, the book is still an insider tip.

Tanya Jones: Trotter’s bottom. Headline Book Publishing. London 1997. 314 pages


Copyright © 2002 by Christian Hörr