||Navy Log Books
The Chess Players
The Chess Players
Publication date March 1, 2011
Romance flourishes during the "hard and bitter peace" as the US Navy and NATO's Task Group 81.3/61.3 struggles to meet the challenge, as seen through the eyes of ENS Cannon and CDR Pebbles, of an expanding Russian navy in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea just prior to, and immediately after the 1967 Six-Day Arab Israeli War.
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.
Chapter 1 "Winter 1967 in the Norwegian Sea" can be downloaded in its entirety absolutely FREE from Page 4 at www.thechessplayers.com
From Chapter 4.
“May I suggest another place to keep your eye on, Mr. Cannon?”
“Watch Egypt and Syria. The Middle-East is unstable and therefore quite vulnerable to manipulation. Again while we have been engaged in Southeast Asia, the Russians have used it as a diversion and have gotten base agreements for their submarines in both countries and are flying strategic bombers from air bases in Egypt. This effectively leaps over the airspace controlled by Greece and Turkey and provides them with valuable ports on the Mediterranean. When the Russian Navy adds the ships now being built in their yards to their Fifth Eskadra, their Mediterranean Fleet, if you will, look for more aggressive moves by them in the Eastern Medi-terranean.”
The Chess Players, A Novel of the Cold War at Sea, Dr. V.H. Schumacher, Tin Can Sailors Assn. Book Reviews
The Chess Players
By Francis J. Partel, Jr.
(375 pages, photos)
Reviewer: Dr. V. H. Schumacher
Overall Rating: Four Stars: Highly recommended. An excellent book.
This excellent book is a skillfully written blend of Tom Clancy, the movie Top Gun, with just a dash of The Caine Mutiny. the story line and very realistic characters are beautifully woven into the weft and weave of that troublesome period of the Cold War from the mid 60s into the mid 70s. It was a t me when "accidents at sea" between the U.S. and Russian Navies took place more so than revealed to the general public. During that same period the USS Liberty was sunk by the Israeli Navy and classified as "an accident". At any moment one lone individual on either side had the power to send the world into a terrible and costly war. The appendix provides readers with an understanding of the communication shorthand and will help those unfamiliar with the terminology get a true sense of the environment. Crack the cover and you will be unable to put it down!
The Chess Players - John Shea, The Martha's Vineyard Times
"The Chess Players" is the second novel by long time Chappy summer resident Frank Partel, drawing on his experiences as a naval officer in the North Atlantic and in southeast Asia.
As in his first book, "A Wound In the Mind," (MV Times, May 29, 2009) a story of emergent understanding of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) in the Vietnam War era, in "The Chess Players," Mr. Partel offers insights about human frailty in war.
Here he ruminates on the mental health of naval warriors entrusted with fascinating new weapons of mass nuclear destruction in 1967. Men who choose to literally bump into each other as they swagger around the seas in the highest stakes war game ever played. Eerily familiar. Philosopher George Santayana may be spinning in his grave.
This is the story of U.S. naval reserve ensign Robert Cannon, a smart-as-a-whip Columbia grad assigned to the USS Essex aircraft carrier to help track the movements of new and improved Soviet subs in the North Atlantic. Cannon is the new breed of naval officer, coming from the civilian world of realpolitik rather than the classic but isolated world of Annapolis.
Cannon serves as a symbol of the changing social and military mores in the late 1960s. He's got a commanding officer who gives him space to figure out what's really going on, the real chess game. The story is enlivened by the presence of a Soviet sub nuclear commander who is either drunk or having a breakdown as he prepares to ram a U.S. boat. Wish I could tell you these events were fictional. They're not.
"The Chess Players" includes a subplot providing real new scholarship about Michelangelo de Merisi da Caravaggio, a real and still well-regarded 17th century painter who was also loony, responsible for killing at least two men. Whether intended or not, the Caravaggio subplot indicates that high-achievers aren't always the best men for the job. Sanity counts.
As we know, the Cold War period in the novel was a period of nuclear brinksmanship, beginning with the Cuban missile crisis, the Six-Day War in the mid-east, and several instances of nuclear-armed Soviet ships ramming, or "shouldering" ships of other countries, particularly in the North Atlantic.
Cannon posits that Soviet bad behavior in the North Atlantic is a strategy to spread-too-thin U.S. forces and coffers. The end game is that Soviet subs will have freedom to roam and the Soviet backing of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan will end the U.S. stranglehold in the Mediterranean.
Cannon holds further that conflicts in Korea and Vietnam were similar diversions cooked up by the Russian Bear to improve their position in this board game turned real. If so, history shows the U.S. took the bait every time. Current events indicate we are still playing the game.
Mr. Partel knows history. Cannon is advised at one point by a former Columbia University professor that Rome fell because she was bankrupted by too many wars in too many places at the same time. When I read that, I began to get the relevance of this book.
The '60s were a great time, particularly for rookie reporters. A byline in every demonstration. But as a reporter and a citizen I was so busy paying attention to what was happening that I didn't ask why it was happening. My bad. "The Chess Players" helps answer the "why" question.
This is not a beach-read and it's not for everyone. One reason is that Mr. Partel is still finding his sea legs as a writer. The book is uneven in places and is replete with intended naval-speak that can be tough to plow through but it's worth it; there is a lot of gold in these pages. Publisher Navy Log Books describes its fictionalized history mission as "modern naval fiction for sophisticated readers."
Mr. Partel is on to something. Book publishers today only want slam-dunk best-sellers. Unfortunately, that has meant that literary junk has pushed the literature of ideas out of the nest. An array of literary houses devoted to niche literature of ideas, his focus, has been born.
Here's my fascination from a literary perspective. In only his second go, Mr. Partel has developed and pulled off a complex plot tapestry that involves the principal plot line above but also a love interest, which balances old white-shoe establishment mores with '60s sensibilities. And the book is set on a world stage, ranging from Chappy to Malta. The CIA shows up in the plot line. It's a bigger book than his first novel, literally and intellectually.
Mr. Partel's characters offer encomiums for living life and the perspective of military history and gaffes from Odysseus to the present day in an easy-to-take presentation. In fact, Mr. Partel's view of the world led me to call him up and ask about this next life phase writing career.
The author has undergrad and MBA degrees from Columbia University and had a successful banking career in New York. He taught for five years in the MBA program at New York University.
From his Vero Beach home last weekend, Mr. Partel described Cannon as somewhat autobiographical but "with 40 or 50 additional years of wisdom and life experience. As a young naval officer, I did not have the insights of the Cannon character. I didn't see those things at the time though we had junior officers who had those attributes," he chuckled.
He has studied the history of naval fiction including C.S. Forrester and Patrick O'Brian in the cannon and musket days. "One theme in this book, is, against the context of O'Brian and Forrester, with the kinds of weapon systems we now have, what kind of people do you breed?" [to operate them], Mr. Partel asked.
"Another theme is an exploration of relationships: Cannon and his mentor, father figure, and commanding officer as well as the love relationship with Laetitia Martin," he said. Ms. Martin is also the Caravaggio researcher.
Bottom line: keep an eye on Mr. Partel, the writer. He's created several strong and believable characters who will show up in novels three and four, now underway.
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