June 24, 2005
I sometimes go to bookstores that keep old or used mystery novels on their shelves.
The story lines might seem a little dated at first. On the other hand, several of these books are uniformly entertaining and sometimes compelling. They deserve the long life that these bookstores help to extend.
The Internet has also breathed new life into these and similar books. Used bookstores can now reach vastly wider audiences than just the drop-by trade. This not only helps the booksellers, but can also furnish the spark to revive some fictional characters that gave a previous generation several hours of enjoyment.
Over a decade ago, for example, long-time golf writer James Y. Bartlett wrote two golf mystery novels featuring Pete Hacker, a former touring pro who filed away his clubs and switched to filing golf stories for the Boston Journal.
The first book, Death Is A Two-Stroke Penalty, put Hacker on the southern swing of the PGA Tour. The folks at Yeoman House reprinted this and the other Hacker mystery in paperback (each $11.99 SRP).
Bartlett also recently added a brand-new one to the mix.
It’s easy to tell when the first Hacker mystery appeared, just by its references to the prize money won by the pros. In addition, some of the real-life PGA Tour stars that are mixed in among the fictional professionals Hacker “covers” are now enjoying life on the Senior Tour.
That doesn’t take anything away from a good story. Hacker follows the Tour as it moves to a new golf course near Charleston, South Carolina. The club seems suspiciously similar to the Kiawah Island masterpiece that hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup “War by the Shore,” which I doubt was coincidental.
A promising young tour professional has a spiritual run-in with an evangelical minister who appears to believe that charity begins at home—his home, in fact. In the meantime, there are other problems facing Hacker, including drug-dealing caddies and golf groupies. In addition, a death on the golf course disrupts the usually quiet excitement of the tournament, and Hacker finds himself in the middle of it—naturally.
The next book in the series, Death From The Ladies Tee, was first published in 1992.
Hacker is still writing for the fictional Boston newspaper, and his preference for the PGA Tour is obvious. On the other hand, he can’t resist an invitation from an LPGA marketing staffer who uses her good looks and family connections to convince Hacker to fly down to Miami for a tournament at Doral’s Blue Monster.
Hacker discovers how the LPGA players compensate for their strength disadvantages compared to the men, and not just on the golf course. Hacker also learns that intolerance based on sexual preference cuts both ways, sometimes with deadly consequences.
The action now fast-forwards twelve years to the most recent book, Death at the Member-Guest.
This time Hacker is trying to figure out how to coast through the fall golf season and then do as little as possible during the long winter layover in New England, before the PGA Tour begins its next season. Hacker’s editor has other ideas, including an assignment to an intern from a Boston college journalism program to learn his trade at Hacker’s feet.
When a college buddy invites the veteran reporter to a weekend Member-Guest event in nearby Lowell, Hacker comes up with a scheme to have the intern take over coverage of the B.C. Open, so Hacker can have his fun.
He quickly re-learns the lesson that no good plan goes unpunished. The unpopular club president turns up dead, and there are more than enough suspects. The possibility of a mob connection to the murder also attracts unwanted media attention. For once, Hacker has to figure out how to stay out of the paper, while also staying out of the clutches of some decidedly nasty folks.
These books are fun to read, and frequently give a credible insider’s view of professional golf and the writers who cover the sport. It wouldn’t surprise me if Bartlett found himself writing another book in the series, perhaps about the Champions Tour.