Jason Kendall – “Throwback”

ThrowbackA recent Wall Street Journal story (July 16, 2013) found that the game of professional baseball involves a lot of standing around. “By WSJ calculations, a baseball fan will see 17 minutes and 58 seconds of action over the course of a three-hour game. This is roughly the equivalent of a TED Talk, a Broadway intermission or the missing section of the Watergate tapes. A similar WSJ study on NFL games in January 2010 found that the average action time for a football game was 11 minutes. So MLB does pack more punch in a battle of the two biggest stop-and-start sports. By seven minutes.”

To read Jason Kendall’s Throwback, however, it’s all action. There are always adjustments underway based on the pitcher, the count, the hitter, the time of day. Everything. “Throwback” is about the little things that make baseball fascinating. It’s about the minuscule moments of anticipation most of us don’t appreciate.

If you’re someone who yawns at the mere thought of baseball, Throwback isn’t going to change your mind. If you watch even a half-dozen baseball games a year, you’ll get something out of Jason Kendall’s inside look at the infinite number of complexities that go into every moment of “action.”

The baseball may not be “in play,” as the Wall Street Journal might measure it, but the game is being “played” by players, coaches and managers anticipating the next moment—every pitch, every defensive position, every slide, every injustice meted out earlier in the game (or earlier in the season—or the season before that).

The writing is breezy. And easy. It is a bit repetitive in spots. A catcher, Kendall played with a blunt and hard-nosed style. His prose won’t be confused with John Updike or Roger Angell. However, he is self-effacing and very funny in a few spots. You get the feeling that he is not holding back.

He’s particularly dismissive of the players who show weakness (as a Colorado Rockies fan, I know what he’s talking about).

Writes Kendall: “A guy fouls a ball of his leg and collapses on the ground? Get up; don’t waste my time. If the leg’s broke? My bad—sorry I yelled at you. But you see guys hobble around for a while and then announce they’re okay. If a guy fouls a ball of his leg and makes a big production of it—if he let us know it hurt—guess what? We’re throwing the ball right back in the same spot. Oh, that one hurt? Here’s another one in the same place.”

Kendall provides insights on every position on the field—and all those in the dugout, too—and takes a run at a relevant subjects such as “Moneyball” (not enough credit to three outstanding pitchers), “Bull Durham” (“got it right”), playing in pain (pop Advil), cheating (“everybody is pushing it”), and the end-of-the-season grind (you will realize it’s a very long season when you read this book).

Highly recommended for baseball fans and borderline fans. If you like baseball, you enjoy subtleties. Throwback helps you see more of them—and know what to look for when you watch.

Warren Hammond – “Kop”

"Kop" is the first of three in the series, including "Ex-Kop" and "Kop Killer."

“Kop” is the first of three in the series, including “Ex-Kop” and “Kop Killer.”

Start “Kop” and you will feel right at home in a dark story of dirty justice, mean streets, creepy thugs and embedded corruption. These streets just happen to be on a planet named Lagarto where the reptiles, both the human and animal variety, tend to get their way. My reading list skews to earthbound mysteries so my credentials at reviewing sci-fi (mash up or straight up) are dubious. But Warren Hammond built a mucky murky world up there on the Lagarto and then imagined a rip-roaring plot with the gravitational pull of Jupiter. I was sucked right in. The clue-finding is as solid as the world building.

Our tour guide is Juno Mozambe and he is part of the force trying to keep order in the sagging civilization, where laws and justice are uncertain commodities. Except Juno Mozambe is no Boy Scout. He’s an enforcer. He’s got a role in one effort to return Lagarto to its glory days and, as such, he’s not opposed to collaborating with a murderous crime lord. Or two. He has found a way to ignore the “flames of hell” licking at his feet. In short, he’s utterly human.

Lagarto was once a thriving little planet. But its status declined when brandy tree saplings were smuggled “offplanet.” Lagarto is now overgrown, quite literally, as a jungle. In the squalid mess that’s left, cartels and crime bosses have moved in. The rivers are sewers. Geckos scurry everywhere. Large lizards abound. (If there is a better action fight sequence out there involving a monitor lizard, I’d like to read it.) You feel sticky and hot just turning the pages. “Kop” might include a pinch of “Apocalypse Now” and a dash of “Chinatown,” but Lagarto is its own blender of Hammond’s nicely warped reality.

Like any good mystery, “Kop” starts with a murder—a throat-slashing attack in a back alley. Juno picks up the blood trail. He also picks up, over his objections, a young and inexperienced female partner. In bits and pieces, we are shown the Lagarto lifestyle. We are given a nifty flashback about Juno’s wife. (As characters, both the rookie female cop Maggie and Juno’s wife Niki neatly toy with standard clichés.)

Juno knows someone is always looking for an angle. In the case of “Kop,” the back-alley murder leads to unravelling a big-picture, planet-sized plot. It’s a doozie. And it works.

“Kop” offers a cool mash-up of heavy noir and calm, clear-eyed sci-fi. “Kop” put Lagarto out there in the universe. And you know what? I’ll be back. (Heard that in a sci-fi movie somewhere.)