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Books: Shakethrus: 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001

August 7, 2004

Double Play
Robert B. Parker
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2004
Rating: 3.8
As he did with the entertaining Gunman's Rhapsody, his take on the story of Wyatt Earp, crime author Robert B. Parker takes a break from his best-selling detective novels to visit a compelling character from American history. This time out, groundbreaking baseball player Jackie Robinson is the figure in question, although he's technically not the focus of Parker's story. That would be Joseph Burke, an emotionally withdrawn thug whose wounds during Guadalcanal, in World War II, and his subsequent divorce from a woman he barely knows, leave him both physically and emotionally scarred. Burke's story isn't particularly compelling, and it's pretty much boilerplate Parker; he dabbles in boxing, gets involved with a couple of lower-level criminal types and gets entangled in a questionable relationship with an emotionally stunted young woman. Robinson doesn't enter the picture for almost a hundred pages -- Burke is hired as his bodyguard during Robinson's historic 1947 breaking of the color barrier, and it's only then that Double Play becomes engrossing. But not particularly original: the two men form a bond; attempts are made on Robinson's life; and Burke ends up trying to save both himself and his troubled ex. But if everything feels a bit too pat and familiar, like the template for a feel-good popcorn movie, Parker keeps things flowing smoothly, and invests Robinson and even Burke (who, one can't help but feel, should just get over himself already) with relatable humanity. Only Parker's occasional reminiscences of life as a boy during the early '40s break the flow, and ultimately add little to the book except a nagging patina of importance (and Parker's eagerness to point out that he's not a racist, in case anyone was wondering). Still, Double Play is a well-executed read for fans of crime novels, historical settings and the American pastime.

::: Kevin Forest Moreau

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July 21, 2004

The Narrows
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, 2004
Rating: 3.7
The Poet stands as Michael Connelly's best book to date, a thriller so engrossing that Stephen King himself sings its praises in a new paperback edition. But as is so often the case with sequels, The Narrows fails to duplicate the original's compelling adrenaline rush. And there's little point in judging it on its own, since it all but requires a knowledge of its predecessor, as well as Connelly's Blood Work -- the film version of which is cleverly nodded to; in Connelly's interconnected universe, the movie is based on real events, for which Hollywood shows little regard. Harry Bosch, Connelly's longtime protagonist, is hired to investigate the death of Blood Work's Terry McCaleb, and soon butts heads with the FBI, which is investigating a series of murders it believes is tied to the Poet, the serial killer who seemed to die at the end of the book bearing his name. Bosch is more interesting here than in his last outing, but the same can't be said of Rachel Walling, the FBI agent who played a pivotal role in The Poet. The POV here is split between the two, and Walling's chapters only serve to distract from Bosch's investigation. The Poet's main character, reporter Jack McEvoy, doesn't show up here, and that disappointing storytelling choice does nothing to make Walling's story more engaging. Worse, the climax of The Narrows hinges on a theory that completely ignores a key fact involving McEvoy and the Poet from the previous book. The Narrows satisfies as a transitional chapter in Bosch's intriguing saga, and it wraps up Terry McCaleb's story in gratifying fashion. But it sheds no new light on the Poet himself, whose identity proved the least satisfying part of The Poet. As a sequel and as a crime story, The Narrows ultimately rings hollow.

::: Kevin Forest Moreau

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterwork
 4.0-4.9: Great read
 3.0-3.9: Well done
 2.0-2.9: Ordinary
 1.1-1.9: Sub par
 0.0-1.0: Horrendous

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