The Game Master by William Bernhardt

The Game Master came to me at a time when I was ready for a break from my usual reading practice.  I have been reading (and enjoying) The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett on my Kindle and both are fairly lengthy.  That doesn’t usually deter me, but the Kindle gives me a little added bit of information as I read – the percentage of the total book I’ve completed – and I’ll admit to feeling a little discouraged by my progress (9% and 27%).

When The Game Master appeared, I decided to devote all of my time to it, also putting aside my regular nonfiction, periodical and writer-related reading – I was on a reading vacation.  That way, I could also make faster progress on my Read Oklahoma Authors challenge.  What I didn’t anticipate was that I would get so caught up in the story that I would let some other things slide, including getting ready for company and a typing project with a deadline.  But vacations (and snow days) are times when you suspend the rules and enjoy yourself and that’s what I did.

I am not a heavy reader in the thriller/mystery genres.  I read fairly complex character-driven literary or general fiction usually about families or friendships.  I was a bit concerned about writing a review for a book that I might not like.  I like to consider my reviews as recommendations; I will rarely finish a book that I wouldn’t recommend.  I needn’t have worried.

If you have an interest in games, modern or ancient, this book will keep you engaged.  (My one criticism of the book is that the cover, which pictures a chess board, may be misleading.  I am not a chess player and was afraid that I might be left behind – no worry.)  An interesting exercise for the Bernhardt family might be to guess the number of games that are mentioned and/or described in their father’s book.  Expertise in all the games is not necessary because diagrams guide us the reader.

Massively powerful computers are also central to the plot.  Perhaps that is why I was distracted from my usual desire for a character-driven story – “Alex” filled that requirement, literally and figuratively.  Thrown in for good measure are action scenes that take place in the Bibliotheque nationale de France and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.  What more could a librarian/bookwoman ask for?

The answer, of course, is a great story – one which keeps you turning the pages from the beginning when the “Game Master” sets out to rescue his kidnapped daughter at any cost, until the end, when the world is seconds away from the apocalypse and it seems that no human can turn it around.  We are introduced to world figures who bear an uncomfortable likeness to those who have their hands on the controls of our planet, whether by destiny or design.  We learn a little about mathematics and game theory and philosophy.  And we experience (probably without noticing) excellent pacing.

I sat in on a writer’s conference session by William Bernhardt where he introduced the story arc, and led us through the parts of a novel and where suspense and tension should build to the climax.  I don’t remember him using a particular novel to illustrate, but would suggest that The Game Master would be good suggested reading before participation in such a session.  Or for a snow day.  Or on a vacation.

William Bernhardt has sold more than 10 million books in several different countries of the world.  He has written books of adult fiction, nonfiction (the writing craft), poetry, and titles for young readers.  He has won the Oklahoma Book Award in fiction twice and was a finalist in the poetry category in 2014.