Six Strokes Under
I like well-written mystery novel origin stories.
An origin story, as I use the term, means the first book in an intended series covering the adventures of the protagonist.
Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Tribe police novels are a good example. His first Joe Leaphorn book, The Blessing Way, set a tone leading to a string of critical and commercial successes. Ian Rankin’s Knots and Crosses, which featured both Detective John Rebus and the dark side of Edinburgh, Scotland is another version of the same genre, with at least 12 sequels to tempt his followers.
Unlike novels limited to telling a single complete story, successful origin stories for an planned series must whet the reader’s appetite to learn more about the heroine and follow her continuing character development in the next novel.
Roberta Isleib succeeded in this difficult task with her new golf mystery novel about Cassandra Burdette, a great new character with a lot of gumption and a penchant for trouble.
Burdette doesn’t look for trouble, actually–it just finds her with relative ease.
Cassie grew up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the popular Southeast golf resort. Her family life is, to put it mildly, not a thing of beauty, despite the surroundings.
When we first meet her, she has returned home to prepare for her initial attempt to pass the Qualifying School for the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Neither her mother nor her stepfather are all that keen on the idea, and she hasn’t seen her golf pro father in a long while.
On the other hand, she is seeing a psychologist.
Her recent work as a caddie on the PGA Tour has added a scar or two to her collection of bad memories from her family, her high school prom night, and a few other incidents. Talking with Joe Lancaster, who’s limited his practice to athletes, seems to be helping.
On the other hand, meeting another golfer also preparing for the LPGA event at the golf club where Burdette works and practices doesn’t help. The girl’s grating, high-handed attitude toward Cassie is a major annoyance.
To her credit, Burdette doesn’t wallow in self-pity. Unlike some self-absorbed athletes, she’s curious about what makes others tick, and not too shy to follow up on where her curiosity leads her.
Of course, that’s when the troubles start. While visiting her own doctor, Burdette discovers the other girl’s psychiatrist in the office next door, with a gaping hole in his neck.
Complications set in, naturally.
Burdette manages to make it to Florida for Q-School, and is eventually joined by her buddy/caddy Laura (who should continue her role as a good sidekick in upcoming stories). They begin the process of figuring out how to compete in the tournament, deal with the media, and negotiating the complex competitive relationship with dozens of other aspiring professionals.
When they’re not doing anything else, the pair follows up on the continuing mystery of the dead psychiatrist, because the spreading investigation is having an effect on Burdette’s chances in the tournament.
Isleib is a practicing psychologist and avid golfer. She wisely drew upon that background in writing this story. In addition to Isleib’s depiction of how the LPGA operates its Q-School, readers also learn about the thorny problems of incest, molestation, and other related family disasters, including the false memory controversy. Isleib weaves the psychological elements of the story seamlessly into the sports narrative.
Burdette’s no angel. Her taste in men needs a little work. Her appetite for fast food and the occasional beer or two will shock the fitness fanatics. On the other hand, her appreciation for a good cheeseburger will strike a chord with those looking for a realistic portrayal of today’s young sporting women. (As the father of two teenage jockettes, I feel qualified to make that remark.)
The one quibble I have related to the editing, at least of the review edition I received. At a climactic part of the book, Burdette begins a round on the tenth tee. Readers learn how Burdette scores on the eighth hole, her 17th of the day. It’s pretty obvious from the preceding portion of the story, however, that Isleib meant the ninth (18th) hole. Just take a pen, cross out eighth and write ninth, and it’ll make much more sense.
Isleib wrote a fine origin story. It creates a fun new character, with a nice supporting cast, and an effective hook to bring the readers back for more stories. I look forward to following Burdette’s dual career as an LPGA player and amateur sleuth with an attitude.
Review Date: May 31, 2002