How many memorable novels about baseball there are! "The Natural" by Bernard Malamud, "The Brothers K" by David James Duncan and "For Love of the Game" by Michael Shaara are just a few. Our national pastime certainly seems to invite stories of passion, commitment and heroism, and one of this year's finalists in the High Plains Book Awards fiction category is no exception. "The Ringer" by Jenny Shank is a fine first novel and a great read for fans of baseball, presenting fast-paced action with lots of heart thrown in.
Set in present-day Denver — the novelist’s hometown — the story opens as policeman Ed O'Fallon kills a Mexican immigrant in a no-knock drug raid. The victim, a man named Salvadore Santillano, is a father and husband, though he and his wife, Patricia, are separated. She is left with a small daughter; an adolescent son, Ray, teetering on the edge of delinquency; and a lot of anger toward the establishment.
In addition to the family’s anguish, the incident sparks a wave of racial violence across the city. Terrible vengeance and terrible repercussions follow a terrible mistake.
Shank moves deftly from the social to the personal. The city is in turmoil, but not more so than Ed O'Fallon, whose guilt is eating him alive and threatening to destroy his family. He does have an outlet for his pain, however — a passionate love for the game of baseball. He is a coach and also an ardent fan of his sons’ winning team.
Ray Santillano shares this passion. He is a pitching prodigy who, using his maternal family name, plays alongside the O’Fallon boys. The suspense builds as we wonder what will happen when Ed and Ray finally meet. As it reaches the explosive climax, this skillfully paced story presents a superb balance between a driven plot and the deeper connections underlying vengeance, anger and redemption.
In addition to creating a gripping set of events, Shank asks us to consider that, in the end, passion, commitment and heroism can apply to parenthood and the career of a dedicated policeman as well as to baseball. In this affecting novel, there is no such thing as a routine play.
Kate Manley has been happily pitching books to her customers for 17 years at Barnes & Noble Booksellers.