In the novel Blackballed!, former Major League Baseball star pitcher Jack “Snuff” Snook is charged with killing the mayor of a Pennsylvania coal town. That storyline plays out against the background of the town’s Little League all-star team. Snook’s son was unfairly left off the roster due to the mayor’s influence, suggesting a possible motive for the mayor’s murder. However, the plotlines do not coalesce much beyond that opening element. Instead, much of the narrative follows Jake Barclay, an investigator for Snook’s lawyer, as he digs into the town’s long-buried secrets.
Murray has developed a broad cast of characters, and exploring their various roles in the plot keeps things moving at a quick pace. The book features an intricate plotting of the mystery and the seedy dealings behind it.
Other aspects, however, are less successful. The book wavers in tone between that of a straightforward legal thriller and an old-school pulp-detective story, mostly to its detriment. Women’s physical attributes rarely go without mention, and it’s impossible to overlook that the story most often refers to men by their last names, women by their first.
The reader is presented little reason to care about the unjustly accused pitcher. Snook is charged in the killing just 11 pages into the story, and he’s largely absent afterward. What little we’re told of Snook before that doesn’t exactly engender sympathy: a summary of his bad-boy past includes a peculiarly offhand note about “minor assaults on women” followed by mention of a (later dropped) felony assault charge involving the woman he later married.
The book also suffers from occasionally exposition-heavy dialogue and some unrealistic aspects, such as Snook being charged with first-degree murder almost immediately after the killing, despite no eyewitnesses or any evidence tying him to the scene. While Blackballed! presents colorful characters and solid narrative momentum, it’s flaws render it a tale that ultimately sacrifices its readers’ attention.
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