In The Spotlight: Alison Gordon’s The Dead Pull Hitter

>In The Spotlight: Kate Atkinson's One Good TurnHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. The late Alison Gordon was a groundbreaking sports journalist, and paved the way for a lot of female sportswriters who came later. In fact, she was one of the first female journalists to be allowed into a Major League Baseball locker room. She left behind a legacy that included a mystery series featuring Katherine ‘Kate’ Henry, sportswriter for the Toronto Planet. Let’s take a look at that series today, and turn the spotlight on the first novel, The Dead Pull Hitter.

The story begins with the return of the (American League) Toronto Titans from a series of away games. The team is preparing to host the Boston Red Sox for some games, and a lot of people think the Titans could win and make it to the playoffs. Against the odds, the Titans clinch the AL Eastern Division Championship, and are now poised to move on in the playoffs.

During the celebration after the key win, the news comes that one of the players, Pedro Jorge ‘Sultan’ Sanchez, is dead, and his body found in his home. The initial police report is that he probably surprised a burglar. Staff Sergeant Lloyd ‘Andy’ Munro is assigned to the case, and he and his team begin the investigation.

That evening, another player, Steve Thorson, is murdered at the team’s clubhouse. One possibility is, of course, that the same person killed both victims. But as it turns out, Sanchez was blackmailing Thorson (among other people). So another very good possibility is that Thorson killed Sanchez, and was later murdered by someone else. In either case, it seems less and less likely that the first murder was a home invasion gone wrong.

Now Munro shifts his attention to the players and any other people who had access to the Titans’ clubhouse. Kate Henry, of course, is shaken by the murders, as many people are. But she also knows that this will be a very important baseball story, and she wants as much exclusive information as she can get. And on a personal note, she wants the person who killed these players to be caught. So she starts asking questions.

Munro depends on her for inside information on what’s going on with the team, and on the ‘behind the scenes’ relationships among the team members and staff. For her part, Henry wants the exclusive on the murder investigation. So they begin to work together, sometimes smoothly, sometimes very awkwardly. Matters are made more complicated because each sees the need to keep some information from the other. For Munro, it’s because it’s an active investigation. For Henry, it’s because she wants her story, and because she knows many of the people involved. In the end, though, the two get to the truth about these murders. And in the process, they uncover some secrets that certain people have been keeping.

The story takes place in a baseball context, and Gordon weaves a lot of information about the game and about the ‘baseball life’ into it. Readers get a good look at the game itself, at the personalities involved, and at ‘behind the scenes’ things such as player trades, decisions about who will play and why, and so on. There’s also a look at the way players interact with the press and the fans, and the difference between that and the way they are when the cameras are off.

The story takes place mostly in Toronto, so this is a distinctly Canadian novel. And Gordon places the reader there quite clearly. Besides giving the novel a sense of that setting, the Canadian context also gives a different perspective on what many people think of as a US game.

Since Kate Henry is a sports journalist, readers also get a look at what it’s like to travel with a team, get copy for stories, file reports, work with other members of the press, and so on. One of the elements that comes through here is the relationship that players and other team members have with the press. On the one hand, it’s a symbiosis, so each side knows it’s in everyone’s best interest to get along. On the other hand, it’s not always an easy relationship. Members of the press have to earn the trust of the players.

The story is told in first person, from Henry’s perspective. So we learn quite a bit about her. She’s single, having split from her former partner Michael. But she hardly wallows in that loss. She loves her job, and is good at it. She’s deeply knowledgeable about baseball, but doesn’t obsess about the game. She’s capable and bright, but not without flaws. Readers who prefer protagonists who are imperfect but quite functional will appreciate Kate Henry.

The solution is a sad one, and Gordon doesn’t make light of the sorrow and loss caused by the two murders. But this isn’t a bleak story. In fact, there’s a solid sense of wit that runs through it. For instance, at one point, Henry and Munro are talking about Constable Donald MacPherson, who’s been assigned to escort Henry as a security precaution. Here’s what happens when she refers to him as ‘Constable Donny:’

‘‘Constable Donny?’ Munro did a slow take, then cracked up. ‘You call him Constable Donny?’
‘Not to his face.’
‘It’s perfect.’
‘Well, he is a little earnest.’
‘Earnest? He’s an escapee from Leave it to Beaver.’’

And in another scene, Henry is getting some information for a sidebar story about the Titans’ odds of winning. For that, she calls an acquaintance in Las Vegas. When the conversation ends, she thanks him:

‘‘Listen, thanks a lot, Jerry.’
‘You bet.’
I wondered if estate lawyers say, ‘Will do,’ a lot.’
There are also some wry observations about the world of baseball and baseball players.

The Dead Pull Hitter is a whodunit sort of mystery with a solid baseball theme, set in a uniquely Canadian context. It introduces a sleuth with a deep knowledge of the game and a strong connection to Canada. It’s also got a solid sense of sometimes-wry wit. But what’s your view? Have you read The Dead Pull Hitter? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight


Monday 4 January/Tuesday 5 January – A Time to Kill – John Grisham

Monday 11 January/Tuesday 12 January – Dead Before Morning – Geraldine Evans

Monday 18 January/Tuesday 19 January – The Beast Must Die – Nicholas Blake


Filed under Alison Gordon, The Dead Pull Hitter

29 responses to “In The Spotlight: Alison Gordon’s The Dead Pull Hitter

  1. Col

    Interesting post Margot, but I’m probably not minded to seek this one out.

  2. This sounds great particularly if you are in to baseball, something that sadly isn’t part of my world. Interesting that the author was a sports journalist who paved the way for upcoming females in her field.

    • I thought that was really interesting, too, Cleo, that Gordon was an influential journalist as well as a novelist. Her knowledge is really obvious, too, as you read the book.

  3. Perfect book for my son!

  4. I have a mixed relationship with baseball – not part of my heritage, though I did try when we lived in the US – but this does sound good, and the author sounds a very interesting person.

    • Baseball isn’t everyone’s thing, Moira, no doubt about that. But you’re right; Alison Gordon was a very interesting person. And the book has a solid mystery in it (in my opinion). There’s quite a bit of baseball, but it’s not the only thing in the book, if that makes sense.

  5. You can’t tempt me with this one, I’m delighted to say! I struggled through Grisham’s ‘Calico Joe’ and then swore an oath (a formal one – I’d been doing quite a lot of informal swearing throughout) that I would never, ever, ever read another book about baseball as long as I live!! Though I am proud to be the only living Glaswegian who knows what a drag bunt is… 😉

    • Well, that is impressive, FictionFan! 😉 And the fact is, no subject – not even baseball 😉 – is for everyone. Even if John Grisham writes about it. Even if Alison Gordon writes about it. I shall have to bide my and lurk in the shadows until I come up with a more tempting offer for you…

  6. I too struggle with baseballl (or cricket, too, for that matter), but thank you for introducing me to a new author and theme. Always useful for those fiendish little quizzes of yours!

    • What? Me? Fiendish? *Evil cackle* Not every subject is for every reader, Marina Sofia. But if you ever do decide to give baseball a chance, this isn’t a bad place to start.

  7. Margot: As you know I am a fan of Alison Gordon and was sad she passed away earlier this year. Not the least of the virtues of her sleuth, Kate Henry, is that she was born and raised in Saskatchewan. My only regret with the series is that Alison did not write more books with Henry.

    • I was sad to learn of her passing, too, Bill. Kate Henry is a terrific character, and her creator wrote so very knowledgeably about baseball, as well as creating solid mysteries. Folks, Bill’s right about Kate Henry’s background. Want to know more? Try Alison Gordon’s Prairie Hardball.

  8. I’ll need to check this one out!!

  9. Margot, I usually don’t read mysteries and thrillers set in and around sports but this sounds like a very good book to me. I’m not familiar with baseball and I know it’s not anything like cricket, though the two seem a lot alike. I enjoyed reading your review.

    • Thank you, Prashant; I’m glad you enjoyed this spotlight. I don’t know a lot about cricket, but I believe you’re right that it’s not much like baseball, although they two seem very similar. If you do ever get the chance to read this one, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  10. SteveHL

    Obviously, Sanchez and Thorson deserved what they got.

    Defeat the Red Sox, did they?

  11. Sounds a bit like Dick Francis taking on America’s “pastime” (which I put in quotes because football does seem to be trying to “steal” that designation). Which reminds me I haven’t read Francis in ages. So many books…

  12. I really enjoyed this short series. They were the most entertaining mysteries that I had read involving baseball. Living in Toronto, I used to read Alison Gordon’s sports columns as well. Like Bill, I was saddened by her passing and really, really wish she had written more books in this series.

  13. Pingback: Writing Links in the 3s and 5…1/6/16 | Traci Krites

  14. I have this book, Margot, and I look forward to reading it. Soon, I hope. Mainly for the Canadian setting.

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