Brian Shawver, Author . Overlook $24.95 (275p) ISBN 978-1-58567-344-5

Shawver's debut follows a failed baseball player and minor league scout who is sent to Cuba to smuggle out a young pitching phenom. Dennis Birch is still bemoaning having lost his position as catcher on a minor league team because of poor performance. He's been working as a scout for six months when he gets the covert assignment—a job for which the credulous Birch (self-described as a man "on whom many things are lost") is perilously unsuited. His contact in Cuba is Charlie Dance. The 400-pound Dance, who has organized the operation, is so repulsive even hookers won't take his money, and so obviously suspicious that even Birch doesn't entirely trust him. The pitching prospect, Ramon Diego Sagasta, is arrogant and not terribly bright, but Birch thinks his incredible skills make him worth risking life and limb for. Naturally, their escape plans go awry, and the Cuban police give chase. The plot unravels somewhat in the last third of the novel. Sagasta disappears, having bought his way out of Cuba himself. Birch remains in the country, where his intrigue with Dance and Sagasta's girlfriend strains credibility. The premise is intriguing, and Shawver's portrait of the astringent Birch and his brewing resentment of Sagasta is believable, though their dialogue often sounds forced. The author also unnecessarily recaps earlier events, slowing the narrative. This likable first effort is sure to find fans among readers of baseball novels, if not a wider audience. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 03/10/2003
Release date: 02/01/2003
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-1-58567-506-7
Open Ebook - 224 pages - 978-1-4683-0395-7
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