Chess Players, The
Author: Francis J. Partel
Publisher: Navy Log LLC (2011)
Binding: Paperback, 388 pages
The Chess Players is both a naval story and a love story and opens with an audacious, espionage mission, a Soviet submarine penetration of Stavanger, Norway, and closes with a thrilling, bizarre episode between a missile-equipped, Russian nuclear submarine and a US Navy destroyer escort in the Mediterranean Sea. Commander Pebbles, Operations Officer of anti-submarine carrier, Essex, on a career track for admiral, mentors the well-educated and competent, but inexperienced young Ensign Cannon. Based in part on untold, historical events typical of the Cold War at sea, their task group encounters several provocative incidents at the hands of the Russian Bear above the Arctic Circle and in the Mediterranean Sea prior to and after the 1967 Six Day Arab-Israeli War. The love story begins when beautiful Laetitia Martin, a Ph. D. candidate in art history, meets Ensign Cannon, both members of a wedding on Martha's Vineyard, shortly before Essex deploys for NATO exercises in the Eastern Atlantic. She is a consummate "belonger" with a growth motive and catches a whiff of the women's movement and begins to find her upper-class life stifling. Cannon doesn't flinch at women's liberation, but he has other anxiety-producing issues related to women. Her research into the turbulent life of the painter, Caravaggio, the novel's fourth character, if you will, will also take her to Europe in the summer of 1967 and provides the opportunity for their romance to bud and bloom in London and in Malta as she succeeds in explaining Caravaggio's self-destructive behavior in modern psychological terms..
One can reminisce about the Cold War, especially the cat and mouse game played out in the North Atlantic, by readingThe Chess Players by Francis Partel. The book’s protagonist is Ensign Robert Cannon, a line officer assigned to the anti-submarine aircraft carrier Essex. Cannon has proved to be a rising star in the surface fleet, especially due to his political savvy. No doubt, this is part of why Ms. Laetitia “Tish” Martin is attracted him, though her hand is promised to another. The pair engages in a romance as Cannon deploys to the European theater, and Tish travels to the continent while conducting research for her art degree.
The Chess Players provides a valuable, historical look at naval operations against Warsaw Pact submarines in contrast to most novels of the period that focus on Vietnam. Descriptions of life at sea are so real as to make one feel as if the deck is moving beneath their feet. Similarly, Partel’s writing makes the romance feels genuine, especially as he includes correspondence between Tish and Robbie showing a style required before email and instant messaging.
The Chess Players is highly recommended for anyone who is interested in an accurate look at life aboard ship, or one of the tensest fronts in the conflict with the Soviets.
Reviewed by: Stephen Phillips (November 2011)