Monday, June 18, 2018

Review of "The Submarine Pitch," by Matt Christopher


Review of
The Submarine Pitch, by Matt Christopher ISBN 0316142506

Three out of five stars
 This is a good adolescent sports story, yet the amount of self-doubt expressed by the main character is a little more than I could handle. While he loves baseball, Bernie Shantz is thinking about giving it up. His skill set is such that the only feasible position for him is pitcher and he is having problems with his arm. His best friend Dave is in total opposition to Bernie giving up baseball and convinces him to dramatically alter his delivery. With Dave’s assistance, Bernie learns what is known as the submarine delivery, where the pitcher’s hand passes within a few inches of the ground.
 Since Bernie is playing in Little League, all the opposing players have never seen such a pitch and Bernie’s arm retains most of its strength, so Bernie does well at first. However, his friend Dave starts to demonstrate signs of being very ill and Bernie’s concern for Dave and increasing self-doubt lead Bernie to difficulties on the mound. Eventually, Dave comes clean about his health issues. Not surprisingly, Bernie manages to pitch and bat well enough for his team to win the “big game at the end.”
 Since adolescents are prone to self-doubt, having the characters in a book of adolescent sports fiction express them is natural. However, Bernie’s thoughts frequently waver from baseball to doubt and worry. So much so that the italicized segments of Bernie’s thoughts get in the way. It would have  been much better if some of the time Bernie would have been thinking about the batter and game context rather than Dave.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Review of "God Save the Child," Robert B. Parker


Review of
God Save the Child, Robert B. Parker ISBN 0440128994

Five out of five stars
 While this is a good episode in the Spenser series by Parker, there is one very critical aspect, it is in this book where the character of Susan Silverman is introduced. That alone would turn even an average tale into a gem. For she is the character that turns the tough thug PI into a soft and emotionally vulnerable human being. Most of the subsequent Spenser stories would have been much weaker had she not been present. She is also an excellent sounding board for the catchy dialog that is such a hallmark of the Spenser novels.
 A teen boy has disappeared, and his seemingly distraught parents have come to Spenser to hire him to find the boy. It seems that he just walked out of the house with little more than his pet Guinea Pig. Very early in Spenser’s questioning of the parents he understands how incredibly dysfunctional the family is. The mother is extremely demanding and seemingly totally hung up on herself while the father has reacted by becoming totally immersed in his work. Neither one seems to have spent a great deal of time on their child.
 The detecting aspects of the story move along at a slow pace, made much faster by the description of the early aspects of the relationship between Spenser and Susan Silverman. Although he falls for her at first sight and she seemingly reacts in kind, they do move slowly at first, largely at the insistence of Susan.
 As much a romance novel as it is a detective story, this is a simple book. The climactic scene where Spenser faces down the oppositional “tough guy” was predictable from the point where he is first described. Yet, the fan of Spenser does not care, for there is much more going on in this story.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Review of "The Clue of the Silver Scorpion," by Bruce Campbell


Review of
The Clue of the Silver Scorpion, by Bruce Campbell

Four out of five stars
 This book is one in the series of books starring a pair of young men that work as reporters in their real jobs and solve crimes as part of their job. There were several such series written for adolescent boys and girls with the best known the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Therefore, any analysis of this book or the Ken Holt series in general almost requires a comparison to the Hardy Boys.
 As a person that devoured the Hardy Boys books when I was young, I have a great deal of experience with those books and how they varied from the early years of the 1920’s up through the 1960’s. For the comparison in this review, I will reference only the Hardy Boys books that were published in the 1960’s, the timeframe within which this book was published.
 The most significant difference in the characters is that Ken Holt and his best pal Sandy Allen are men well out of high school and gainfully employed. Therefore, they do not engage in the teen activities that were so often a component of the Hardy Boys story plots. Ken and Sandy also do not seem to have girlfriends, in contrast to nearly every Hardy Boys story where Callie Shaw and Iola Morton were at least mentioned, if not contributors. Finally, in the Hardy Boys series, the local Police Chief and his right-hand man are often depicted as buffoons. That is not the case in this story.
 Outside of these major differences, the plot to this story could have been used for a Hardy Boys story. Almost by accident, the main characters become the targets of a ruthless criminal gang that is after something that was passed into their possession without their knowledge. While they manage to outwit the gang at first, there is the inevitable moment of great danger, where they must find a way to get out of the situation where the gang members have guns and appear willing to use them.
 While some of the language and tactics of the story appear quaint, one of the most significant aspects is that the main characters and the gangsters are all depicted as being clad in coats and ties. It is an interesting story and one that is illustrative of how textual entertainment for adolescents has changed since the sixties. Written well for the times, many aspects are now dated.