Captain Grey’s Gambit (A Thomas Grey Novel, 2)

Written by J. H. Gelernter
Review by G. J. Berger

This second novel in the Captain Grey series opens in November 1803, when Napoleon rules over the French military and has designs on England. Returning from India with confidential messages, Captain Thomas Grey sits on a beach in the Sinai desert and waits for a shore boat that will take him out to a ship and then home.  From a young age, Grey served as a marine on English warships. Along the way, he mastered most weapons of the era and became an expert hand-to-hand fighter. He also developed into the Navy’s top chess player. Britain’s Naval Intelligence recruited Grey for his many talents.

New orders require him to enter a chess tournament in Frankfurt, Germany, and extricate one of Napoleon’s top advisors (also a master chess player) who wants to defect to Britain. French or German soldiers and French loyalists hover over the tournament and blanket every possible extraction route. They are not the only obstacles. The French defector insists on taking his pro-France daughter. This assignment tests to their limits Grey’s mastery of chess, understanding of human nature, and fighting skills.

Gelernter knows the ships and customs of the era. His chess jargon and key games have an authentic intensity with the moves copied exactly from more recent high-level matches. Historical notes at the end provide a useful guide on actual versus fictional characters and details. Several harrowing sub-adventures enhance the main plot of the attempted rescue. As with the more modern James Bond capers, readers will have to accept some fantastic fights, improbable escapes, and unexpected resolutions, but this page-turning journey is well told and worth the time.