One False Move

Written by Robert Goddard

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

One False Move
Bantam Press
RRP: £20
Released: February 28 2019

Many readers have come to enjoy the novels of the prolific Robert Goddard. His latest thriller One False Move is no exception. Goddard’s work though entertaining, has a depth, an insight that provokes thought and introspection in the reader. His latest is an outstanding example of a Novel, of a fiction, that makes us pause for thought, and to meditate upon life, and the inherent dangers of a hidden past.

One False Move illustrates Goddard’s mastery of plot, beginning with the pursuit of an intellect, one that has been able to outperform the algorithms, the computer code that defeats human cognition. That intellect comes in the shape of a young man, Joe Roberts.

The enigmatic agent, Nicole Nevinson is despatched at the behest of Venstrom, a Californian software corporation that sits at the summit of computer gaming. Nicole’s boss Carl sends her to the South West of England. Her quarry is that intellect, a youthful gamer, one who can defeat the digital player in an ancient game that originated in China, and now played on glass-screens, as well as boards.

The game in question like chess, is one that is played both by amateurs as well as professionals – it’s called ‘Go’. Simplistic in its nomenclature, in its board, and its rules, it belays a complexity that relies on intellect, memory and instinct to succeed. It is also a game that is brutal in its unforgiving nature to a casual player (as the title of Goddard’s novel alludes to). In having this ancient game ‘Go’ at its narrative core, this novel acts as a metaphor for life itself, for death is only a move away and our best-laid plans may unravel when we make that eponymous One False Move in life, just as we can when playing ‘Go’.

The problem for Venstorm is Joe Roberts’ ability in defeating their ever-advancing Gridforest ‘Go’ gaming platform. No matter how complex their programmers update their algorithms, this mystery player keeps pace. This is not only an impossibility, but also an attraction, an opportunity for Venstrom - to secure him into their company, moving him to Silicon Valley.  

Nicole Nevinson’s task in locating Joe Roberts for Venstrom is problematical as our young gamer conceals his abilities with modesty and with discretion. The novel starts with immediacy as Joe has let his mask slip ever so slightly. He has revealed his location by using a work computer in Cornwall, England; one sat on the desk of an unpleasant and crude businessman named Conrad Vogler. Vogler runs a successful investment company, but one that seeks discretion for its clients. The company is called Conmari Ltd, an unimaginative fusing of the two director’s names, Conrad and his leathery-tanned wife Marianne.

Nicole enters this narrative spider’s nest, peopled by ‘geeky’ gamers of ‘Go’ some eager to befriend this guest in their club, while others less so, such as Conrad of Conmari Ltd. Joe Roberts (and his new-age girlfriend Karen aka ‘Zip’) are now blinking lights on Venstrom’s radar.

Joe eventually relents in his opposition to leave small-town Falmouth and head to California and a new life with Zip. The reasoning on his agreement to join Venstorm is Nicole’s offer, one that he cannot refuse. What holds Joe back is both the past, his long dead Father, and his father’s former business partner Conrad Vogler. It seems that Vogler is not ready to give up his employee Joe Roberts, because this ‘Go’ prodigy has another skill, one that Volger needs to protect, to keep to himself. It appears that Joe Robert’s skills in ‘Go’ are matched by his cognitive abilities in another area. Joe’s abilities have made Conmari Ltd. huge profits. Conrad is not prepared to give up the engine that powers his wealth – the young Joe Roberts, the son of his former business partner, Charlie.

And so, Goddard sets up this novel like the board in a ‘Go’ tournament, simple to view, but when the game commences, the devious plot starts to weave. In a Goddard novel little can be taken at face value, even secondary characters like ‘Go’ pieces, come into play. There’s Joe Robert’s widowed mother who runs the Tideways’ guest house where Nicole bases herself, the enigma that is Forrester who resides on the top floor as a permanent resident, or the Seven Stars pub where the Falmouth ‘Go’ club players reside.

A cat and mouse game ensues where Joe Roberts is the prize, though like a chess game, there are many players on Goddard’s board, some remaining in shadow revealing themselves only when deaths occur. It’s a dark novel despite the affable surface gloss, as the past is rarely dead. We have links to criminals to espionage as ambition and greed is revealed, all hidden in the horrors of days now passed.

Robert Goddard’s affable and seemingly simplistic novel, like that game ‘Go’ (that forms the spine of this novel) is anything but simple. One False Move is literary morphine, dangerously addictive but offering a distraction from the darkness of this world, by holding a black mirror to its surface, to reveal a darker truth.

Highly recommended, as Robert Goddard is what we term a ‘writer’s writer’, and for readers that translates into literary gold. He has produced a thought-provoking novel that thrills vicariously as the pages turn like the moves in a game of ‘Go’, played by a grandmaster at the height of his powers.

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