Robert B. Parker needs no introduction as the creator of the Spenser series of mystery novels. This prolific writer has also penned the Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone thrillers. His other novels are much less interesting, especially his attempts at the western. So it is with some trepidation I approached Double Play, a suspense built around the story of baseball great Jackie Robinson and his first year in major league baseball.

Parker strays far away from his usual fortes in a novel set in New York City that blends autobiographical passages about his youth in the Boston area with an almost sociological look at racism in America in the post-war years. Of course, there are certain recurring themes such as the noble and very macho main character and the honorable if criminal thug.

Joseph Burke, World War II veteran ends up being hired by Branch Rickey to protect Jackie Robinson. This happens about a third into the novel, the first hundred pages or so being used to give background information on Burke and setting up the conflict that will surround create the suspense around Robinson. It does take a bit too long to set up and the female lead, a spoiled scarred rich girl name Lauren never quite makes it as an interesting love interest.

He plays it safe with the Robinson story itself. Parker’s Robinson is a self-assured and very quite man. Since Robinson does not say much, Parker doesn’t have to worry too much about historical facts and real biographical information. The baseball information is nothing above what an average fan of the came could write about.

This is an interesting suspense that really works because Parker can write a good story. You will probably zip your way through this novel and then quickly forget it. Double Play is not a Parker classic but better than a journeyman effort. There are also, it seems, a few tip of the hat to other crime writers hidden in this novel. Characters share the same last name as other mystery writers and Burke is also the last name of Andrew Vachss’s lead character.

Double Play
Robert B. Parker
Berkley 2005
279 pages

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