Friday, July 22, 2011

Flip Flop Fly Ball

What a fun book!

Author Craig Robinson combines his love for baseball with his artistic and writing skills to produce one fun, eminently readable hardcover book. An Englishman, Robinson came to baseball later in life, but when he did, he fell whole-heartedly in love with the game. He had a lot of catching up to do, but this also gave him the ability to see baseball from a slightly different, skewed angle than Americans.

Not only is the book illustrated with original works of art, like the painting "SkyDome" which has a big, white roof hovering above, cloud-like, or the abstract piece called "Pirates Fan," which resembles a man nodding off in his chair, but it also includes some wacky charts and graphs. Like the one that shows the distance of all the pitches thrown during the 2006 MLB season, if you added them all up (8,318.5 miles). Or, one of my favorites, the graph that shows ballpark elevations. Coors Field is WAY up there!

Robinson's sense of humor comes through not only in his charts (and their captions), but also in his text. Some of the essays are personal, and describe how he came to love the game of baseball. Some talk about the cross-country trip he took to see the different ballparks. But then he also throws in some quirky ones, like the imagined interview with the dove that met his end from a Randy Johnson fastball.

This really is a fun book. My only complaint is that it is too short! I wanted more, which is always a good way to leave a reader.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Misery Bay, reviewed

It's been a while since the last Alex McKnight novel, and it was worth the wait. Author Steve Hamilton (recent Edgar Award winner) does a good job of slipping back into the familiar characters and settings of the series, while still keeping it fresh. He feeds you just enough information from past books to refresh your memory, while also helping out first-time readers of the series. (So, you don't need to have read earlier novels to enjoy this one.) Some of the usual, secondary characters of past books just appear in minor roles here (like Leon, McKnight's ex PI partner), but their use is natural and not forced; their appearance fits and enhances the plot line.

And what is the plot? It starts with the suicide of a college student. Chief of Police Roy Maven, McKnight's occasional nemesis, asks McKnight to look into the suicide, who was the son of Maven's ex-partner, see if there is anything more to it. Of course, there is. When more suicides happen—along with the murders of the suicides' fathers (all ex or current cops)—Maven and McKnight begin to believe that Maven himself may be in danger, not to mention Maven's daughter. A race against time to find the killer begins.

In between some of the chapters are neat, one page movie directions, spoken by an unknown director that really gives the book a scary, intriguing mood. It's a good concept that works, and adds to the overall mystery and tension. As usual, the setting is Michigan's upper peninsula (UP), which, especially in winter, gives the story a bleak, desolate feel. Hamilton's writing is excellent, and moves along at a good, quick pace, no wasted words wasted here. A new, deeper relationship has developed between McKnight and Maven, and it will be interesting to see how Hamilton handles this in future novels.

Misery Bay is an excellent, fast-paced mystery. I wouldn't be surprised if another Edgar is in Hamilton's future.

4 Stars