Memorable tale, this political thriller is aimed at young adults and is set in early 21st century Ukraine. Set against the Ukrainian struggle to be free of Russia, the story's main protagonist is Natasha. She is a gifted 17-year-old soccer player desperate to play for her country.
Her father is a journalist who puts the whole family in danger through his investigations into government corruption. Natasha's problems are paralleled by Ukraine's fight for independence.
It is a remarkable story - both memorable and readable.
Liz Rhodes --Journal of the National Union of Teachers (UK) - July 2010
This political thriller, set in challenging and often dangerous Odessa, is aimed at young adults. The story is about Ukraine's struggle to free itself from Russian hegemony, as well as the personal struggle of a 17-year-old talented soccer player, Natasha Kaltsov, whose career is jeopardised by her father's revealing journalistic investigations.
Watson's books include children's stories and the number of works of fiction based on real facts, set in Chile and Czechoslovakia. Fair Game features Kyiv under snow, the ancient beauty of Lviv and inspiring vistas of the Black Sea. --Kyiv Post
The book is a neat combination of the Lancashire-born author's own interests. A lifelong Blackburn Rovers supporter, he has always had a passionate interest in human rights, and a career spent working with young people plus three daughters of his own means he knows how to pitch his writing to capture their interest. --Jane Bakowski, Kent & Sussex Courier
The continuous mutations of human infamy are an inexhaustible source for James Watson's socio-political thrillers. Here we have not a rerun of the Battleship Potemkin, but nefarious goings-on in newly independent Ukraine which are brought to a climax on the Odessa Steps. Oligarchs, an only slightly cleaned-up version of the KGB, and a journalist possessed of incriminating tapes make up the political threat, while the social one celebrates the current New Woman: the journalist's daughter playing soccer for the nation's Under-19s and an artist restoring the cupola frescoes of St. Cyril the Lesser with God the Mother and Her Female Apostles. The plot of Fair Game is...very typical of earlier, much-praised narratives by James Watson... --Brian Alderson, Books for Keeps
From the Author
Women's football has to struggle for recognition. The pitch is where rules prevail, enabling skill, resolve and determination to achieve their due reward. However, life off the pitch is so often an uneven playing field. There is prejudice, envy, resentment, institutional disadvantage. The assertion of identity is far more of a challenge.
In FAIR GAME: THE STEPS OF ODESSA this situation applies to both Natasha, an up-and-coming football star, and her country, Ukraine: each is striving for the definition of self, Natasha by progressing in her chosen sport, the Ukraine by struggling to escape from the shadow of its Soviet past.
Prior to 2004, the country had been classified by the human rights organization Reporters Without Borders as the second most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Beatings-up were commonplace, murder a very real risk. Victor Kaltsov, father of Natasha and her brother Lonya, is a campaigning journalist. His investigations into government corruption are on the point of being made public. The Secret Police are desperately on his tail. Suddenly Natasha's footballing future, indeed her life, are in peril.
The story tells of Natasha's fight to survive and progress. There is drama and there is humour, on and off the field, as Natasha's talent proves an irresistible force but also one that endangers those she admires and loves.
The lives of all the characters in FAIR GAME interlock as the destiny of each heads towards the book's climax on the Steps of Odessa, made famous by the Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein in his 1925 masterpiece, The Battleship Potemkin.
During this Ukrainian journey, readers will touch down in Kyiv and Lviv, experience the winter snows of the vast Steppe, join Natasha and the Ukrainian Under 19s in Vilnius and Riga, encounter the power and influence of Ukraine's mega-rich oligarchs, learn of the secret past of Natasha's friend Monika and the story of the ring that once belonged to Russia's finest and most beloved poet, Aleksandr Pushkin.
For Natasha, soccer is truly the beautiful game, but she discovers that the playing field of life can at times resemble the side of a mountain.