Saturday, September 6, 2008

Orsilloing a Cloak; Book Review of "Dirty Water: A Red Sox Mystery"

Philosophy books don’t really have endings that can be ruined. Though they contain conclusions, there’s little suspense in getting there. A reader doesn’t wonder, biting his nails- will he use modus ponens? Reductio ad absurdum? Or will he blunder, affirming the consequent? Conclusions, although the name implies the end, are typically stated up front. And so when discussing such books, I don’t have to worry about spoiling anything.

Not so with a mystery novel. I’m not sure I’ve ever even read a mystery novel before; as a philosopher, I like my problems solved right away, and as a Sox fan, I’m pretty sure ahead of time how everything will turn out. But Jere Smith, author of a great Sox blog, co-wrote a mystery novel with his mother, Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, a veteran mystery author, and as this mystery is entitled “Dirty Water: A Red Sox Mystery”, Jere sent me (and others) an advance copy of the book, asked for a review, and so here we are.

So, not sure how to talk about a mystery novel without giving away the plot, I’ll put it this way. I hate exercising. I don’t like sweating unless I’m winning. I recently bought an exercise bike, and the only way I’m going to use it is if I am sufficiently distracted from focusing on my frailty and mortality, so that 30 minutes 3 times a weak isn’t a jail sentence. I read most of Jere’s book on my exercise bike, and now I’m holding up my too big pants and grinning like a dope! In other words, the book was compelling enough to successfully pass the all-important ‘distracted me from wheezing and thinking of dying test.’

The novel features brief appearances from actual Red Sox players, and some of their imagined antics and dialogue are amusing- among my favorite lines are “Schilling unsnapped the onesie at the crotch and took off the soaking diaper”, and “Youkilis said, ‘there’s a lot of Jewish Hispanics, Papi.’” These appearances are mostly at the beginning, as the story takes off from the discovery of a baby abandoned in the Red Sox clubhouse. The mystery develops as the gritty detectives on the case follow a trail of homicide, intrigue, and felonious dealings in the shady business of recruiting foreign ballplayers.

A distinctive aspect of the book is that it features a Red Sox blogger, (presumably) penned by Jere, whose blog posts play a key role in the plot. (If only my blog posts had such clout…) Writers and readers of Sox blogs will probably get a kick out this, especially those not-fictional folks who are name-dropped (though those of us who are not, such as myself, might feel left out. :))

There is definitely a target audience for this book- readers of Sox blogs are not everyone (sadly), and the story is very much set in Boston, with jokes about navigating I-93, and references to places like the Middle East in Cambridge. And the novel does presuppose a quite a bit of familiarity with Sox culture; references to Jerry Remy smoking, Don Orsillo eating donuts, and even speculation that Globe sportswriter Amalie Benjamin thinks bloggers are “weirdos” would probably not go over, in say, Russia.

But that probably wouldn’t bother the Smiths- the setting is of course not just geographical but emotional, and the book knows it’s audience. There’s a stark division drawn between the real Bostonian and the tourist, the true fan and the pink hat, so to speak. Though this is potentially alienating for those on the other side of this iron curtain, this inclusive hardcore Boston affect will satisfy those who wish to derail the bandwagon: tourists are mocked for trying to get into the Lansdowne’s Cask’n Flagon, California is denigrated for not having Thomas’ English muffins for 20 years after Massachusetts did, and one character is surprised to see that a young Sox fan’s hat is so frayed, which belies the fan’s dedication to The Team.

In the meantime, remember, this is a twists-and-turns murder mystery. It’s just that I’m not going to talk about that.

Finally, despite the dark subject matter, the book also features a morally unambiguous community of good-seekers and well-wishers; there’s an I’ll-get-him-if-its-the-last-thing-I’ll-do ethos from the folks directly tied to the action, and a we’re-all-in-this-together-collective-emotion from folks less directly tied. (Misanthropes and others skeptical of roll-up-your-sleeves altruism be warned.)

Done with Dirty Water, I’m getting back on my stationary bike and starting ‘the Case of the Disappearing Yankees World Series Rings’…


Peter N said...

Hi there...can I read that Yankee book after you? Sounds great, and it's no mystery!
I finished the book and wrote my review. I enjoyed it! Nice post...that last line was an outloud laugh for me! Peter

Soxlosophy said...

thanks, peter. and you're right, it is no mystery. but i've dog-eared all my favorite parts anyway. like the bit where the yankees finish 4th in their last year at yankee stadium... oh whoops, i ruined the ending. oh well.