Jere over at A Red Sox Fan From Pinstripe Territory has, with his mother Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, written “Dirty Water: A Red Sox Mystery” and asked a number of Sox bloggers to review it. Matt started on it, but once he found a description of Amalie Benjamin as the wunderkind of the Boston Globe, he dropped it like a hot potato. Matt, as you may know, has no great love for the quality of Amalie’s work (two years later, that post still shows up on the first page when you google “Amalie Benjamin”). When we went to visit Matt’s parents in LA a few weeks ago, what did we find in his childhood bedroom but a copy of Dirty Water. He thought it was following him around. Turns out his sister works at a mystery bookstore and though he’d like it. Minus the Amalie love, he probably would have. In the end, it fell to me to review the book, which works since I’m the one who likes to read anyways.
There have already been a number of reviews that hit the high points of the plot (see the Rutland Herald for one example, more are listed at the book’s blog), and I don’t want to spoil the story for you anyways, so this review is going to be about my opinion of the book. I’ll split it into three sections that I think deserve distinct review.
The mystery: I don’t read a lot of mysteries, but I thought this was a well-crafted plot. Throughout the story, you’re wondering how all the disparate pieces are going to fit together, and when they finally do, it’s a nice “A-ha” moment. It’s just plausible enough that you believe it, but not so obvious that you see it coming. You can go back and look at all the clues and see how it really fits together.
The baseball: I don’t want to give away any of the plot points here, but the parts about recruiting international players and the seedy side of some agents were great. You really get a feel for a part of baseball that often gets ignored and swept under the carpet. This was far and away one of my favorite parts of the book.
The characters: That brings me to my other favorite, and my least-favorite, part of the book. The detective, Rocky Patel, is so different and at the same time so real that I felt like I would recognize him if I met him on the street. He is both unflappable and empathetic. The rest of the characters, aside from the cameos by the Sox, also felt real. The appearances by the Red Sox, though, felt fake and contrived.
I expected to love the parts with the Sox. Since I, like so many fans, feel like the team is almost family, it should be great to read about them, right? The problem is, I have my own opinion on what those guys are like, my own “Imaginary Baseball World” (a la Kristen). Now, I know my views of the players are probably far from accurate, but I want to imagine Pedroia running around the clubhouse saying “fuck yeah!” to everything while insulting everyone, Youks as an overgrown frat boy, and Papi as a huge teddy bear with a temper when he’s wronged (like by an umpire with a called third strike). The characterizations in the book just didn’t jibe with my views of the players, which made reading those parts awkward. Once the book got past the players, it ended up pretty good.