Chess is a simple and yet intensely complicated game. With just six types of pieces, each with distinct restriction on how they can be used, an older child can begin to play in less than an hour yet those same six pieces can consume the entire lifetime of a genius. And that is why it is so fitting that Steven James has carried us along on his journey of move and countermove in the Patrick Bowers Files with the continuing analogy of chess.
The Queen, by Steven James, is the author’s latest in what has become a mainstay in late summer reading for many an adrenaline junkie in need of a thriller of just a bit different flavor than the run of the mill. One of the geniuses of Steven James’ writing is that one need not have read any of the other novels in the series to understand pretty quickly what is going on. In case you haven’t read previous installments, Patrick Bowers is a geospatial profiler who considers the Criminal Minds version of profiling to be little more than educated guess-work.
While there is a large cast of characters, this episode is very much Patrick’s story. Called away to northern Wisconsin from the case he so desperately wants to close, Special Agent Dr. Patrick Bowers must face a conspiracy of global proportions and a very personal ghost from his past that will not allow it to be ignored. This may be the most vulnerable we have seen Bowers. We see him barely overcoming childhood fears and nearly losing his life on more than one occasion. As always, there is plenty of pulse pounding action with plot twists at just the right points. But none of the dangers he confronts are as formidable as what he faces in his estranged brother and the secret that has separated them for years. Just as it seems Bowers has finally managed to sustain a relationship with fellow agent Lien-Hua, his past with both his brother and his brother’s wife threatens to derail the one mystery he has failed to crack in the past – women.
There is no way for me to review a Patrick Bowers novel without considering my favorite character. Tessa, Bower’s step-daughter, is dealing with the aftermath of events in The Bishop, and fighting demons of her own. Though she is barely present in the first half of the novel, Tessa’s search for the meaning of forgiveness and redemption intertwines itself with scenes of the basest of human character to form a contrasting tapestry of the human condition.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some truly impressive villains. Richard Basque is back but only as an elusive shadow. Front and center is Alexei Chekov, the most interesting and multi-dimensional villain yet to spring from the creative mind of the author. Sure, there is the enigma known only as Valkyrie, a rogue CIA master hacker, and a band of misguided eco-terrorists. But Alexei Chekov stands out as what should serve as a prototype for the kind of villain that makes this kind of story rise above the ordinary.
What impresses me most is the patience the author has taken over five novels to develop the underlying themes of the nature of man’s heart, guilt, and forgiveness. Human nature, like chess, is simple at one level and utterly complex at another. James doesn’t insult our intelligence by having Patrick or Tessa resolve that complexity in some formulaic way. Instead, we are given characters with depth, hard questions and longings. And for at least one, hopefully, the only real answer to the human condition.
Reviewed by Tim George
Publication Date: September 2011
Review copy provided by the publisher
This entry was posted on Sunday, September 18th, 2011 at 7:27 pm and is filed under Tim's Notes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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