Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Review of "In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People"

There are times when reading a book that you have to change the perspective of how you view the story.  I had to do that when reading this entertaining fictional story by David A. Todd.  Without the snark of saying that it had to be fiction since the Chicago Cubs are in the World Series, I will just note that some of the events don't seem that they could really happen...but it doesn't matter because they all work in this story.  Here is my review of this book.

“In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People” by David A. Todd

Baseball, fiction, Cubs, Yankees, family, crime

August 25, 2012

270 pages

4 of 5 stars (very good)

First a synopsis of the book: Ronny Thompson just wants to play baseball. He's good at it, and can pitch the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series victory in over a century. So why are all these Mafia-type events swirling around his life? How does he extricate himself from them? And how does he concentrate on winning games, rather than on his estrangement from his parents, his girlfriend, and an aggressive reporter, and on so much that his farm upbringing didn't prepare him for?

This is the perfect description of this story of baseball, the mob, an unlikely romance and the naivety of a young farm boy from Kansas. Ronny Thompson has wonderful pitching skills and is a once-in-a-lifetime pitcher who has an incredible rookie season for the Chicago Cubs.  With over thirty wins in the regular season, three no-hitters, pitching every game in the final weekend of the regular season and on two days of rest for the duration of the playoffs, the kid is just too good to be true.  So, going back to the synopsis – why is all this happening to him?

The reason is simply a high-stakes bet between crime organizations in Chicago and New York on the outcome of the World Series.  If the Cubs can actually beat the New York Yankees in the World Series (so you KNOW this has to be a work of fiction) the Chicago mob is set to gain eighty million dollars.  So both organizations get to work – one will do everything it can to distract Thompson to throw him off his pitching, the other will do everything to protect him.  This includes using of their call girls to pose as his “girlfriend.” 

Just like the baseball, the lengths these two otherwise street-smart organizations go to in order to make sure the outcomes are to their liking are far-fetched.  Staging auto accidents, planting a false story of Ronny’s dad taking money from the school where Ronny pitched college baseball and finally a planned shooting at Yankee Stadium during game 7 of the World Series are all events that seem over the top.  Also, there are events that just seem to happen that put Ronny in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as a drug bust, that are also captured by a reporter and photographer.

However, put them all together and it makes for a fun and entertaining read.  Sure, maybe the reader will have to suspend reality while doing so, but all of these elements are blended together in a manner that will have the reader cheering for Ronny throughout the story.  I was pumping my fist when he pitched his no-hitters just as if I was at Wrigley Field witnessing it.  I was touched on following him fall for Sarah, the girl planted by the Chicago mob to help him through the season, but realizing that she was falling in love with him as well. 

As I worked through the book and enjoyed the story for what it was instead of thinking that there is no way a kid will pitch with this kind of success while enduring all these terrible occurrences, I found myself appreciating this author’s work more and more.  By the time of the book’s conclusion, I realized I just read a very entertaining work of fiction that was meant to do just that – entertain.  It wasn't meant to be a lesson in baseball or crime family history.  It was just a good yarn that was fun to read and left you cheering.  I won’t give away the ending – but since this is fiction, I will let you come to that conclusion.  Or better yet, pick up a copy and you will find out for yourself.

I wish to thank the author for his generosity of providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. 

Did I skim?

Did I feel connected to the characters?
Yes, at least to Ronny, Sarah and Lind, the Chicago reporter who was following Ronny and “exposed” some of his shortcomings.  Of course, it is hard to find a “connection” with crime figures, but what was interesting about them is that Todd didn’t make them fall into the typical stereotypes.

Pace of the story:
Excellent – the baseball portions, the family issues and the final game all move along without slowing down, but at the correct pace so that it doesn't seem rushed.

While I am certainly no prude, I found the lack of stereotypes, sex scenes, excessive violence and foul language extremely refreshing.  I don’t mind any of these in a story when they are tastefully presented or integral to the story.  However, when they are included just for shock value or to add something “extra” then they are a major turn-off.   By leaving them out, Mr. Todd concentrated on the story at hand, and that made it a good read.

I did find some of the baseball achievements unrealistic, even for fiction.  The amount of pitching Ronny does, on two days rest, the number of games he wins, and the number of no hitters he throws in a season – three - is a big stretch of imagination, even for a fictional book.  While calling this a “negative” might be too strong, I felt that if Ronny’s achievements were closer to realistic, the story could still have held its own.

Do I recommend?
Yes – for any baseball fan or crime fiction reader.  This book has excellent prose on both of those topics.

Book Format Read:
ebook (ePUB file)

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