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This book is a ridiculous crime fiction novel featuring a relief pitcher private investigator. The part about a reliever being a PI wasn’t the ridiculous part. It was everything else.

Does traditional noir set in this present day really work? I’ve read a few of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series (which one of the cover blurbs on this book compares it to) and I’ve never felt ooky about reading those, even with the period sexism. 1964 was indeed another country and the female agency in the McGee series seemed different than it does here. Even with female heroes and villains (and victims) Monday seems to have included them only as plot objects.

The suspension of disbelief didn’t happen for me. The baseball is generally good, the opposite of most sports-related genre fiction I’ve encountered. Here we have sports that make sense (mostly) but the crime plot is over the top. Or distasteful. Or, more to the point, both.

(The bad baseball point: why would a manager make the team LOOGY the closer? It’s clear at the beginning that the protagonist is a situational reliever. If his splits were equal, he wouldn’t be used as a situational reliever. See Sean Doolittle and Glen Perkins for usage patterns for a high-leverage LHRP.)

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This book is one of those massively recommended baseball novels. As a peek into 19th century baseball and the 1876 Red Stockings, it’s unparalleled in fiction. There’s definitely enough baseball in here. Unfortunately the entire kitchen sink went into the production of the rest of the novel.

1) It looks like a straightforward time-travel novel with lots of baseball.
2) Then our protagonist has to escape from gamblers. Not so unusual for the period, but…
3) He runs into Mark Twain (who he’s named for)
4) and there’s psychics
5) and the Fenian Brotherhood
6) and then it turns into a time-travel romance (with no HEA)
7) and a cross-country chase
and most of the baseball disappeared.

The end made it look like one of those “the old days were better” books when it’s clear from Sam’s actions in the past re racism and sexism that he didn’t agree…whatever, it didn’t fit the author’s plot template.

In conclusion, it’s crackfic. It hung together as well as can be expected–it takes a talented author to juggle this much and have the audience keep watching, and Brock is–but there’s a point where he starts dropping balls. Thankfully it’s late in the novel.

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This book (and its baseball) was far more successful than most of the baseball fiction I read in 2012, which is high praise indeed for a self-published work of regional fiction. Last year I had the privilege of reviewing Brian Carriveau’s nonfiction overview of Wisconsin town ball It’s Just a Game for Brew Crew Ball and this novel is a great companion to that. Carriveau’s book covered the town ball league in the Madison area and Eidem’s focus is on town ball in the St. Croix Valley and surroundings but the sorts of people depicted are similar.

Eidem is based in Prescott and plays town ball. He’s writing what he knows, the leagues, towns and people of Western Wisconsin. In the text, the protagonist points out that most people think that town ball/adult league baseball is more of a Minnesota thing; Minnesota gets most of the attention, to be sure, but there are a lot of similarities to these states.

Despite liking the book, it’s definitely a “plot? what plot?” sort of thing going on; the book is the first-person recollections of Lance “Fan” Chatworth (nicknamed not because he’s a baseball fan, but due to an in-game incident of waving paper around to get cool) and his experiences of playing for the Spring Valley Hawks and in their annual Memorial Day tournament. Each section takes place 10 years apart, starting in 1989 and ending in 2009. The guys on the team get older, but the bars in the towns and the character of the team largely stay the same. You get an incredible sense of place in this novel, but the problem, and the reason this ends up in the self-published end of the literary pool, is that the place is the St. Croix Valley and the interest in such a subject–small town adult amateur baseball–doesn’t have a wide reach outside the region. It rang true to me (especially the cracks made about Woodbury, ha!) and it’s worth a read if you’re interested in the area or the sport.

What I did find odd was the amount of Brewers references in the book. It probably reflects authorial bias, as most of the baseball fans from the area I’ve encountered in the wild tend to be Twins fans. Most of the characters in this book are Brewers fans and the only Twins reference is that the protagonist thinks that Target Field is too polished. Perhaps the characters are Brewers fans because they’re the right age to have hooked on to the team during their magical 1982 season. The protagonist’s best friend is one of those superfans of the ’82 team to the point he named his kids after members of the team. I’m a Brewers fan too but wow, that’s going too far. (Well, our site editor named his dog Gorman…does that count?)

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