"[Dead Ball is] a historically based murder mystery with plenty of surprises--and with a beautiful romantic subplot." --Gary Livacari, author of Reflections on the 1919 Black Sox
In 1912, in a meaningless late-season game between two bottom-of-the-pack National League teams, talented rookie pitcher Hal Gerecke throws a fastball he'll regret as long as he lives.
Rube Wannamaker, the popular plate-crowding batter Hal is facing, apparently never catches sight of the incoming pitch and winds up on the ground, unresponsive and bleeding profusely.
When Hal refuses to finish the game, his budding Big League career comes to an abrupt end. But for some people, that's not enough. Many of Rube's teammates, friends, and fans want Hal's head on a platter. In spite of the threats, it's Hal's concern for the well-being of Rube's young wife, not fear, that prompts him to forget baseball and return to the menial job he held before making it as a pro.
Even so, not everyone forgets Hal. A year later, the founders of a new league--out to correct the more egregious ills of organized baseball--come looking for Hal, eager to sign him to play again.
With mixed feelings, Hal signs. But when he returns to the diamond, he discovers all too soon the lengths to which his unrelenting enemies will go to ruin him or see him dead.
Trick pitches and sharpened cleats are hardly the only perils the young ballplayer now faces.
Hal, Johnny, and Gracie are the most developed characters; the others can feel slightly flat. As Johnny and other players threaten violence, readers will admire how Hal maintains integrity by rarely picking a fight and always thinking of his wife’s safety first. Though this distinct moral compass can seem slightly exaggerated, it leaves readers reassured that Hal would never intentionally harm Rube. Hal is an honorable man whose chivalry is emphasized through his respectful treatment of Gracie and Hannah McGuire, a Boston nurse he befriends. His bashful awe of the two women’s beauty is a little reductive but sweetly innocent, and gives readers another reason to root for him.
Hutchinson echoes film noir and hard-boiled crime novels through ominous foreshadowing and chapter-ending cliff-hangers. Readers observe Johnny’s moves where Hal doesn’t, creating a larger sense of danger for the protagonist. It’s exhilarating to follow Hal and Gracie through the historic streets of Boston, New York, and St. Louis as they try to deduce who is truly after them and sort the good guys from the bad guys in the intense world of pre-regulation baseball. Crime fans and baseball fanatics alike will be enthralled by this retro tale of love and revenge.
Takeaway: Historically accurate details of pre-regulation baseball and nail-biting suspense will captivate crime and sports fans.
Great for fans of Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out, Darryl Brock’s If I Never Get Back, David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49, W.P. Kinsella.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B+
Dead Ball...has it all – baseball, romance, murder, suspense, and history...Hutchinson took the history of early baseball and created a winning fictional story.