From Publishers Weekly
Set in 1947, Parker's superb new novel imagines what it was like for Jackie Robinson, and more centrally for Robinson's (fictional) bodyguard, to see the color barrier broken in Major League baseball. This isn't Parker's first foray outside the mystery genre, though he remains best known for his Spenser PI series (this year's (Bad Business
, etc.); in 2001 he dramatized Wyatt Earp in (Gunman's Rhapsody
, and earlier he excelled with Perchance to Dream
and Love and Glory
. In an unusual gambit, however, this time he mixes his storytelling with his firsthand reminiscences (in chapters titled "Bobby") of growing up as a devoted Dodgers fan, a move that adds resonance and a sense of wonder to the taut narrative. The fiction, told in the third person, focuses on Joseph Burke, a WWII vet grievously wounded physically and emotionally by combat and its aftermath. Burke is a hired gun who allows himself no feelings, but when he signs on with Dodger owner Branch Rickey to protect Robinson from racist violence during the ballplayer's rookie season, he comes to respect, then love, the proud, controversial player. Burke also falls for Lauren, a self-destructive society girl with mob connections whom he worked for before Robinson, and it's from Lauren's troubles and the threat of violence surrounding Robinson that the novel's hard, smart action arises. Burke is a tough guy, and the narrative not set around baseball fields takes place in the white and black underworlds as Burke plays various gangsters against one another to protect both Lauren and Robinson. Parker, always a clean writer, has never written so spare and tight a book; this should be required reading for all aspiring storytellers. Parker fans will recognize with joy many of the author's lifelong themes (primarily, honor and the redemptive power of love), and in the Burke/Robinson dynamic, echoes of Spenser/Hawk (the PI's black colleague). Here they will treasure the very essence of Parker in a masterful recreation of a turbulent era that's not only a great and gripping crime novel but also one of the most evocative baseball novels ever written.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The problem with this new novel from the creator of hard-boiled uber
-hero Spenser is simple: this is a Spenser novel with new names. Burke is the Spenser clone. He's back from World War II after sustaining severe wounds. After his bride leaves him, he loses his emotional center. After his boxing career fizzles, he hires himself out as a tough guy. (Sound familiar Spenser fans?) A Mob guy refers Burke to Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who needs someone to protect Jackie Robinson, who is about to become baseball's first black player. Burke and Robinson swap lots of good-natured racial barbs (a la Spenser and Hawk), while Burke confronts the local Mob with the help of a gunsel named Cash (Vince Haller by another name). Interspersed among the mayhem are somewhat disconcerting (why here?) recollections (assumed to be Parker's) of trips to the ballpark in the forties. So is this book bad? No, it's quite good actually, but Parker is at a point in his career (he got there a long time ago) where great athletes sometimes find themselves: 50 more homers for Barry Bonds? Not as many as last year! Despite the similarities to his Spenser series, Parker's characterizations of Burke and Robinson will resonate with readers because, as always, Parker connects with the romantic tough guy residing in so many souls. Wes LukowskyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved