The book: “Mystery Ball ’58: A Season-Long Whodunit”
The author: Jeff Polman
The vital statistics: Grassy Gutter Press, 266 pages, $12.99
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnesandnoble.com, at Powells.com
The pitch: The mystery isn’t how the San Francisco Giants won the World Series last year.
Or two years prior.
Or two years prior to that.
It’s why I decided to try to slip a pulp-fiction novel into this whole mess of book reviews.
As the Dodgers and Giants face off today for the first of 19 meetings — and six times in the next 10 days — we’re asking for your help in resolving these mysterious circumstances.
Polman, a Culver City-based writer, caught our attention with this paperback because of a blurb written by Sports Illustrated’s respected Joe Sheehan: “Jeff Polman’s latest combines the Golden Era of Baseball with the Golden Era of Pulp to produce a page-turner and must read for anyone who likes ‘Clubhouse’ or ‘L.A. Confidential’.”
Josh Wilker, the acclaimed author of “Cardboard Gods” gives it a thumbs up, too, touting the “cracking dialogue.”
The premise: Snappy Drake, a former minor-league pitcher who works as an usher at Seals Stadium, finds a dead body in the grandstands after the Giants’ opening day against the Dodgers on the first day of big-league West Coast baseball.
An L.A. Herald Examiner reporter sneaks up to his house to see what he knows.
The “ball-noir” novel is off and running.
Except, we’re just not following it. Not as we anticipated. It’s just not resonating as we had hoped.
Dialogue, if you please:
“Paid my tab and hiked down the hill to my walk-up at 15th and Van Ness. The usual clammy fog was rolling in from South Bay. The thick kind that makes even mailboxes looks spooky. I hiked to the tip of my creaky wooden steps and stopped. A woman stood there in the shadows. I couldn’t see her face but the perfume she was wearing convinced me she had to be a looker. What I could see was a cloud of cigarette smoke blowing toward my face from where her head must have been, and a smart navy skirt that showed enough leg to keep my toes stapled to the porch step.
“ ‘Mr . . . Drake?’
“ ‘You could say that.’
“ ‘I hear you found that body after the game yesterday.’
“ ‘Yeah? Says who?’
“ ‘I was in the papers.’
“ ‘Too bad I don’t read ‘em. Can I help you?’
“She dropped her cigarette, pulverized it with the high red heel, and emerged from the shadow.”
What evil lurks in the hearts of this man? We will probably never know because we haven’t been drawn to finish this to the “Casablanca”-like conclusion.
We’re not sure if we’re getting Joe Friday dialogue involved here, or a Girl Friday.
Don’t get us started in snarling our lip and trying to read on.
In a book laid out to look like a newspaper, with headlines and dates marking the progression, it’s a snappy, creative way to incorporate what was happening in the big leagues at that time, but we’re not sure about the historical accuracy.
From our swivel back chair, this really bordering on Doomis material – in the nicest way, because that’s the last name of the HerEx reporter trying to unravel this whole thing so she can move onto to the crime beat.
To say it reads forced is kind forcing us to actually admit this kinda reminds us of a visit to the concession stand where we were anticipating a real treat based on a lot of great recommendations, but then getting underwhelmed by a warmed-over steamed hot dog with a mustard packet included..
This really isn’t to our taste, as it turns out. We’re going to pay it forward, though, to a couple of friends who might get a kick out of it.
More to know:
== From a review by the Peoria Star Journal: “Many baseball fans discover the dice baseball game Strat-O-Matic around age 12, only to leave it on a shelf of their parents’ home when they leave for college. Others, such as journalist Jeff Polman, have turned the game into a cottage industry. Polman writes a regular column for Strat-O-Matic’s website and now has published his third novel based on a season replay, “Mystery Ball ’58: A Season-Long Whodunit” being the latest. The baseball portion of “Mystery Ball ’58” is based on games Polman played using Strat-O-Matic’s player cards from the 1958 season, the year the Giants and Dodgers moved from New York to California. The mystery part of the book comes from Polman’s creative mind, mixing real players and figures of the time with fictional characters. … This is a fun and breezy read, a mix of a time of baggy uniforms, ring-a-ding-ding swagger and pulp fiction.”
== From a review by Seamheads.com: “(It) kept me intrigued and entertained throughout and I couldn’t wait to pick it up whenever I had a free moment to see what would happen next. It’s a fun and satisfying read that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the last delicious page.”
== A blog of Snappy Drake’s latest musing.
== A writer who we enjoyed (and saw perform true to form as a “Jeopardy!” contestant), Andrew Baggarly, has come out with documentation surrounding the mystery of the San Francisco Giants’ recent World Series runs called “Giant Splash: Bondsian Blasts, World Series Parades and Other Thrilling Moments by the Bay” (Triumph Books, 336 pages, $25.95). Chapter 1 is the first game played at what was then called Pacific Bell Park in April, 2000. The indignity remains: Dodgers shortstop Kevin Elster hit three home runs in the Giants’ 6-5 loss.
“The Giants would just have to live with it: a Dodger hit the first official home run in Pacific Bell Park history,” Baggarly wrote.
Best they could: Change the name of the park. Twice.
The book is set to release on May 1.