Doubleday, March 2016
The book is equal parts mystery and baseball. Johnny Adcock is a terrific protagonist. He is a no-longer-young baseball player, 36 to be exact, fourteen years in the big leagues, his assigned role to come into a game in the eighth inning, primarily to face left-handed hitters (as he is a southpaw himself), and retire them (working, as he says, ten minutes a night). Divorced and with a teenage daughter, he plays for the fictional San Jose Bay Dogs. In the opening pages, Johnny meets a woman with the unlikely name of Tiff Tate, who apparently has a following as a sports stylist – who knew? In effect she does makeovers on sports figures, upgrading their image, including hair, body ink, clothing and the like. We are told that “Her work is legendary, lucrative, and highly confidential.”
Johnny’s side job, so to speak, is as an investigator for friends and colleagues, which primarily involves cheating spouses, for which he charges no fee; he says that “an empty bullpen is the closest thing I have to an office,” seeing it as his job down the road after he retires from baseball. Tiff asks him for help with regard to a Colorado Rockies rookie outfielder who is as well known for his escape from Cuba as for his power at the plate. She says that he is being blackmailed by the Venezuelans who smuggled him out of Cuba, and are apparently holding his family at gunpoint in Havana as collateral.
At some point, dead bodies start to pile up, and Johnny’s sideline brings him into danger that he never anticipated. There is much about the less glowing aspects of the sport, with its history of steroids and humongous salaries. There are tidbits such as that the Coors Field equivalent of a no-hitter is four runs on eight hits, and Johnny pitching to a power hitter who is facing the possibility of leaving “a runner in scoring position against a thirty-six-year-old finesse pitcher who makes a fraction of his salary.” Oh, and to the uninitiated, the eponymous ‘double switch’ is a “maneuver that allows a manager to change two players at once and swap their places in the batting order.”
Timing is everything, they say, and my reading of this novel on the eve of the new baseball season couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. It is a good mystery, with just the right amount of humor, and lots of terrific baseball lore and references. And I even learned a new word: callipygian! Of course, the final scene has Johnny coming into a critical game in the eighth inning with the bases loaded. One doesn’t have to be a baseball addict to enjoy the novel (although, to be fair and in the spirit of full disclosure, I am exactly that). This is an entertaining book, on any level, and it is recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2016.
Don’t Look Back
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, December 2015
Mass Market Paperback
The title derives from words spoken by a mysterious figure at the heart of this book, an exhortation not to be taken lightly. When the warning is ignored, in the early pages of the novel, it is the last mistake made by the woman to whom it is spoken. The man is lethal in a nearly unbelievable way, well-trained in jihadi tactics, and intent on only one thing: That no one must see him, no one must endanger his hard-won invisibility.
Our protagonist, Eve Hardaway, single mother of an adored 14-year-old boy, has taken a rafting and hiking trip in the mountains of Oaxaca, in Southern Mexico. Having come upon the fatal encounter referenced above, she is plunged into the most threatening and dire of situations, both nature-made and man-made, exhibiting incredible bravery. The man hunting her, having seen her observing his murderous actions, has almost inhuman expertise in all things offensive and defensive. Eve is facing unimaginable odds and a relentless adversary. In fact, that last adjective describes the book as a whole, for it too is relentless. So much so that I kept finding myself wanting to put the book down, but could not bring myself to do so. The author’s descriptions of the jungle and its inhabitants, human and otherwise, are very well wrought. There are occasional chapters from the pov of Eve’s adversary, giving the reader a glimpse into the mind and heart of a man who is basically, in addition to and despite being a devoutly religious man, a homicidal terrorist.
The book spans about one week, but the scenes that play out sometimes seem endless. Eve is one of a group of seven, of varying ages and greater or lesser abilities under these threatening circumstances, and they each find their bravery and loyalty to one another tested. At some point they see the reality of the situation: “Us vs. nature. Us vs. him.” Which just about sums it up.
Despite some reservations, the novel is recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2015.