THE SETUP MAN. By T.T. Monday. Doubleday. 262 pages. $24.95.
Oh, man, everybody knows the dream: You trot to the mound as a rookie, first time in the Bigs, take the ball by the seams and hurl a pitch nobody can get a bat on. T.T. Monday nails it with "The Setup Man."
His first thriller comes at you from both sides, with heat:
The hero is Johnny Adcock, a marginal major league pitcher who's found a niche as a set-up man, the guy brought into the game in the late innings to get a key batter out, stop a rally and leave the mound for the closer to finish the game.
Adcock has carved out a side career doing private detective work for teammates and league mates, mostly focusing on marital cheating.
It's not too far into the game before the uneasy sense emerges that he might be a little out of his league with both:
"I do as I am told, spot a fastball up and in. It has good velocity, a little trailing movement, and it is headed right for Diggy's waiting mitt when Kelton turns and jacks it over the right field wall. ... 'One pitch,' Skipper says to me as he takes the ball.
'I think that's a record.' "
And, " 'I'm just trying to figure out who might find the body.'
'Nobody is going to find s---'
I raise an eyebrow. 'Why's that?'
'Because I took him with me.'
Marcus flips his head back slightly, quickly - the motion he used on those rare occasions when he accepted the catcher's sign. 'In the trunk,' he says."
Chapter to chapter bats back and forth from baseball to head-knocking.
Adcock has that nonchalance of the classic suspense hero, and Monday mixes his hero's insights on the craft of pitching with his wry observations on the learning curve of investigating.
For instance, Adcock gets traded mid-tale and must throw against his old team. You'd think it would be easy because you know them so well, he says.
But because you've never had to pitch against them, it's the one thing you don't know.
The plot has to do with a prostitution ring that becomes darker and more menacing as Adcock probes. Just who is behind it all dawns on the reader as uneasily as it dawns on Adcock.
Good stuff. This kid belongs in the Bigs.
Reviewer Bo Petersen is a reporter for The Post and Courier.