Monday, July 20, 2009

Murder at the Racetrack (and sometimes at a baseball game too)

So tonight I settle down to watch Jason Schmidt, who in 2006 signed a 3-year, $47 million contract with the Dodgers and then almost immediately went on the disabled list after only pitching 6 1/2 games, and stayed on the DL for two years (and does he get paid for that?). I and a lot of people are tuned in to see him make his first pitching start since 2007. He very slowly starts pitching, and eventually after fifteen minutes the first batter gets a triple. The second gets on base. The third batter drives them in. After forty-five minutes we're still in the first inning.

You get the idea.

So to pass the time, I pick up a book I found at Borders the other day, Murder at the Racetrack, a compilation of stories that have two obvious things in common: murder and horseracing. When I first found it, I thought, hm. Horseracing. Something I know something about (there's a story there but I won't tell you right now). I check the list of authors: Lawrence Block, Ken Bruen, Jan Burke, Lorenzo Carcaterra, Max Allan Collins, Thomas H. Cook, Pat Jordan, H.R.F. Keating, John Lescroart, Michael Malone, Michele Martinez, Joyce Carol Oates, Julie Smith, and Scott Wolven. No Dick Francis stories. How refreshing. It's getting more intriguing. Then I see that Otto Penzler is the editor. Sold. Plus the book is only $1. Bad for Penzler. Good for me.

Penzler is the editor of the Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps (I always have to look up that title to make sure I've got it right), co-editor of the Best American Mystery Stories of 2008, The Best American Crime Reporting, the Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, the author of Dangerous Women, and the editor of Murder in the Rough: Original Tales of Bad Shots, Terrible Lies, and Other Deadly Handicaps from Today's Great Writers, which is, you guessed it, a compilation of murder stories on the golf course. And it just goes on and on. Oh, and he will also be the guest of honor at Pulp Fest, coming up in less than two weeks.

I read the first story the other night. "Keller by a Nose," by Lawrence Block. Keller is a hit man who gets an assignment at the track and at the same time is needing to find a way to finance his own little vice: stamp collecting. I love it.

The second story, "The Return of the Thin White Dude," by Ken Bruen, is about an ex-cop with a great nickname of Loot. Loot has a serious gambling problem (I have a feeling there will be more of these types of characters in this book - it just goes with the territory) with an inability to stay away from OTB, which leads him to financial ruin, stealing from the job, a wife leaving him, and eventually to meeting up with a coke-head buddy Lenny who needs a job done. Lenny doesn't really seem to be a very nice friend:

He smiles then, swallows a huge dollop of his drink, the ice clinking against his teeth, freshly capped and gleaming, like a movie star. Set you back three grand. I know; I inquired.
He said,
"October twenty-seventh."
The booze has muddled my head and I don't know what he means, so I go,
"Dunno what you mean."
He's incredulous, then,
"the Sox, Man, we became world champions."
He's fucking with me, big time. I've been a Yankee fan all my life - how could I not? - and I'd almost forgotten how Lenny liked to stick it to people. The Glock is still in my hand and for one glorious moment I considered shooting the fucker.
Wish I had.
He's not finished.
"You guys choked - am I right? - got your ass handed to you."
Like I said, I should have shot him.

Delicious. Enough to make me forget there's a game on TV, even when Manny Ramirez hits the home run that pushes him past Mickey Mantle on the all time HR list.

Baseball, horses, tight writing, Vin Scully speaking silk on the telly. It doesn't get much better than this.

Murder at the Racetrack
Edited by Otto Penzler
Mysterious Press, 2006


Charles Gramlich said...

Makes me glad I don't watch baseball. lol.


That's sounds a great collection of stories.