by Gary Blackwood
Penguin, 2014. 313 pgs. Historical Fiction
Many real characters and one real automaton inhabit the pages of Gary Blackwood's latest historical/mystery fiction title. Rufus Goodspeed is a chess prodigy and essentially an orphan. His father, the Reverend Tobias Goodspeed is in debtor's prison with no means of freeing himself, and his mother is gone. Rufus sees a way to help himself and his father when he is offered the job of playing chess vicariously in the cabinet of the Turk, an actual historical automaton and sideshow figure in the mid-1800s who wowed observers with his chess-playing abilities even though someone hidden inside the Turk's cabinet was actually moving the pieces. His new employer stalls off paying him so that he cannot help his father in his time of greatest need, and he must constantly be on guard against anyone discovering his secret and exposing the Turk as a fraud, as Edgar Allan Poe seems intent on doing. Danger, romance, youthful brilliance and aged deceit fill these pages making a fine, if somewhat slow-moving historical story of an unusual time in American history. Kids who enjoyed The Invention of Hugo Cabret may take to this story as well.