Updated: Aug 25, 2020
Gary Livacari is editor of the popular and informative website BaseballHistoryComesAlive.com and is the author of Reflections on the 1919 Black Sox: Time to Take Another Look. He has written and published more than 900 sports-related essays and was an editor for the Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Baseball Collection, helping to identify ball players in almost 3000 photos from the 1930s and 1940s.
I'm extremely grateful to Mr. Livacari for reading Dead Ball: A Novel of Murder and Passion and posting the following review.
***** A Murder Mystery That Will Keep You in Suspense
I thoroughly enjoyed "Dead Ball: A Novel of Murder and Passion" by GP Hutchinson. For a baseball history buff like me, it was right up my alley, although you don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this one. The story is set, appropriately enough, in the 1910s during baseball’s Dead Ball Era, a time when the game was played with scuffed-up, heavily stained balls. It was also a time when juiced-up trick pitches were legal. Throw in a dark, overcast day, and it’s amazing that there weren't many tragedies on the ball field.
Without giving away too much, the plot follows in general outline the tragic death of Ray Chapman in 1920, the only player to die from a thrown ball in a major league game. Chapman was fatally beaned by a known headhunter, Carl Mays. In "Dead Ball," protagonist Hal Gerecke unintentionally throws the pitch that severely injures Rube Wannamaker. In contrast, Gerecke is nothing like the surly Mays, who always proclaimed he never lost any sleep over throwing the pitch that killed the popular “Chappie.” Gerecke, a top-notch ballplayer, is a genuine “good guy,” who anguishes greatly over the incident. As the author makes clear, it was an obvious accident. It happened on an overcast day and Wannamaker, known to crowd the plate, never saw the ball. Gerecke’s innocence was supported by the umpire and the managers of both teams. He was even forgiven by Wannamaker’s wife.
Also in contrast to Mays, who was able to get on with his baseball career without incident, Gerecke is tormented by Wannamaker’s teammates and many fans as he attempts to make a comeback with a fledging new league, which hoped to rectify some of the problems in the American and National Leagues. But the worst part is he is stalked by Wannamaker’s psychotic brother who attempts to exact revenge, even to the point of murder. The tension that develops between the brother and Gerecke becomes the major theme of the story.
The novel is well written with excellent character development and an intriguing plot that will keep you turning the pages with anticipation. There’s plenty of local color and period dialogue from the 1910s that adds to the enjoyment. There’s a unique blend of romance, murder, suspense, and history woven into the many subplots by Mr. Hutchinson’s skilled pen.
If you’re looking for a historically-based murder mystery with plenty of twists, turns, and surprises – and with a beautiful romantic subplot – do yourself a favor and read Dead Ball.