I like to read classics, historical fiction and world lit. Oh and I love short stories.
I really wanted to like this book. Robert Löhr chooses unexpected, off-the-beaten-track subjects for his historical fiction. Unconventional and obscure historical events are right up my alley, so this novel promised to be a blast. Sadly, the book did not deliver.
This was Löhr's debut novel and it shows. He didn't get the pacing right, nor was he able to give his characters any depth. The story revolves around a mechanical chess machine. The first machine able to think and play chess - or that's what everyone believes. In reality, it's all a hoax. Inside hides a man who controls the machine and plays the games. The story has all the elements for a great thriller: a mysterious machine with a secret, its ambitious "inventor" ready to defend the secret at all costs, the people around him trying to uncover said secret. It has spies, murder and jealous lovers. And yet Löhr doesn't construct this exiting story in a skillful way, resulting in a flat, unexciting novel about a dwarf in a cabinet.
All characters are cardboard cut-outs whose actions you can see coming from miles away. Their emotional journeys are not fleshed out. I was especially disappointed with the shallow treatment of Tibor, the main character. He had so much good things going for him that would make for an interesting character, but Löhr didn't take any opportunity to give him any depth or any believable quality. There's no sense of personal journey about Tibor, even though the author clearly intended for him to have one. If and when the author describes some changes in his character, they seem to come out of nowhere, as there's no build-up.
In short: just about any element in the book that could have given it an interesting dynamic and could have pulled a reader in.
Because of the poor characterization, there's next to no tension. The events are recounted, but the characters do not seem affected at all. A shame, as this novel leaves me with regret for what could have been a brilliant story.