A ballplayer. A diva. The mob. Trouble, 1920s style.
It's 1927, the year Babe Ruth clouts an unprecedented 60 home runs. Over in the National League, Joe Rath has just lost his spot as starting catcher for the Baltimore Beacons. The team's front office believes their club, too, needs a bona fide slugger, one they've found in their new backstop, Frank Walsh. Determined to prove his worth to the Beacons, as well as to his dissatisfied young wife, Rath boards a team train bound for Chicago. Little does he know, a spontaneous visit to a speakeasy in The Windy City will land him in a world of ruthless gangsters and in the arms of a ravishing young singer.
Hutchinson's love of baseball comes through in every ballgame scene, and sports aficionados will relish the descriptions, pulled off with such panache that even nonfans will find themselves drawn in. Equally accomplished are the scenes in speakeasies and the period argot: “Did you see the gams on those Shebas?” Joe's introduction to the seductive Amie has a deft, noirish touch about it. The plot is a little thin, and Joe's transformation into an avenging angel may be a bit over the top—how do ballplayers become such adept fighters?—but the bloody action scenes between gangsters and ballplayers are nicely choreographed.
Anchoring all the busy action scenes is Joe's character, a study in contrasts. From the beginning, it's clear he's a devoted family man delighting in his child, but he's also a tough athlete. His internal struggle becomes clear as he finds himself increasingly attracted to Amie and the two of them walk a fine line between friendship and romance. Joe thinks he is platonically comforting her: "With his hand still in hers…she nestled against him." But then he realizes: "Maybe not so safe." The richness of Joe's character and the unusual professional sports setting elevate this book above the usual gangster melodrama, and readers will find themselves caring deeply about Joe, Amie and their friends.
Takeaway: Sports and crime-fiction fans alike will enjoy this 1920s major league thriller.
Great for fans of: Dick Francis, William L. DeAndrea’s Five O'Clock Lightning.
Design and typography: B+
Marketing copy: A-
I enjoyed Pickoff by G.P. Hutchinson both for Joe Rath’s conflict between his love and duty toward his family and for his natural on-the-road attraction to the beautiful and entrapped Amie. He is lured by his chivalric need to protect and rescue her from her tortured existence. And I enjoyed the meticulously researched baseball framework. Though the Baltimore Beacons are a made-up National League team, everything else about the sport is spot on—I checked: Bob O’Farrell, the 1927 Cardinals’ manager; Earl Webb, the Cubs’ right fielder; Kiki Cuyler, the Pirates’ skipper; and even Matty Schwabb, the Reds’ groundskeeper. Also real are Chicago’s streets and Prohibition’s speakeasy culture. The questions, then, are two: will Joe be able to get off the bench and play regularly, and more important, will he resolve his love for his wife with his attraction to the sexy, goodhearted songstress? Pickoff by G.P. Hutchinson offers great action, great baseball, a great love story, a great moral dilemma, and crisp direct prose. Hutchinson has hit this one out-of-the-park!
Pickoff by GP Hutchinson is an incredibly gripping story that draws you into the world of the characters immediately. I thought every character was believable and the excellent dialogue really highlighted their personalities. Joe was an amazing protagonist; he had his flaws but his moral compass throughout was admirable. His reactions, thoughts, and behavior when he faced danger were realistic and this made him even more genuine. I found the inner battle Joe experienced between helping Amie, fighting his feelings for her while remaining loyal to his wife, incredibly moving. There was also fantastic detail and excitement on the baseball pitch with great camaraderie between the players. The tension was superb as Joe tries to escape the clutches of Scaletta and his men. There were some great plot twists and the areas of conflict were perfectly placed to keep my interest. The ending was absolutely compelling and the shocking twist at the end caught me totally by surprise. A great read and one I would highly recommend.
Hutchinson again successfully recreates the world of old-time baseball in his third America’s Pastime crime novel (after 2020’s Dead Ball: A Novel of Murder and Passion). In 1927, Baltimore Beacons catcher Joe Rath is at a crossroads in his professional and personal life. After Joe, a superior defensive player with a rocket of an arm, is benched for a new power-hitting teammate, he contemplates requesting a trade, though he doubts his wife, who already resents his being away from home for road games, would be happy moving, especially with their one-year-old son. With his mind preoccupied during a road trip, Joe allows two teammates to take him to a Chicago speakeasy, where he’s smitten by a torch singer, Amie Dawes. The guilt that induces is exacerbated when he learns Amie is considered the property of a gangster, and his efforts to help her result in a murder. Hutchinson never loses sight of his lead’s flaws, making engagement with his vicissitudes easy. Fans of Robert Goldsborough’s Three Strikes You’re Dead will be pleased.