"Chess is the most violent sport in existence."
Paolo Maurensig is a writer who excels at describing the minds of obsessed people. The fact that he uses a tight, compelling style and that he manages to wrap his characters in beautifully plotted murder mysteries comes as an added bonus.
The Lüneburg Variation is a book about chess masters, and their ability to focus with chilling singlemindedness on their goal - be it the capture of the opponent's king, or the vengeance against an old enemy.
The Lüneburg Variation is a defense available to black pieces; it's difficult to master, but when played correctly it ensures victory eight times out of ten.
We learn about this particular defense at the beginning of the book, and a few pages later we find an old chess master lying dead in the garden of his beautiful villa - an apparent suicide.
As the story unfolds, spanning the decades around WWII in a series of long, nested flashbacks, we meet the champion Tabori, whose house is filled with photographs of people he never met, and his sinister nemesis Frisch.
Tabori's obsession with chess clearly emerges as he trains a Hans, a promising novice, using a chessboard that punishes wrong moves.
As the narrator describes the clashes between Tabori and Frisch, we witness the most chilling chess tournament of all times, where the stakes are higher than the players' own lives.
Once in a while Maurensig hands us a new piece of the puzzle: after a training match with Tabori, Hans receives a letter from his teacher - a few newspaper clippings of people who died in an accident, and Tabori's note: what if the deaths of those people were a direct consequence of Hans' poor performance?
The book is short - less than 200 pages - but it's so tightly packed that at the end there are no loose threads: Maurensig's jigsaw is complete from border to border.
We discover the secret of the photos in Tabori's house.
We find out who invented the Variation, and where its name comes from.
We also learn why they generally say that it guarantees a win "eight times out of ten".
And what happens the other two times.
Submitted for The Bookworm turns: an Everything Literary Quest.