(From the archives 2009)
Kent Morgan writes a sports column for a paper in Winnipeg, Manitoba, but spends most of his time puzzling over what to do with all the books piled on his furniture and floor and stored in his garage. More bookcases are not the answer as he has no room for them.
Squeeze Play - Paul Benjamin - Avon 1984
Five years ago third baseman George Chapman had an Alex Rodriguez-type season as the New York Americans won the World Series. Unlike Rodriguez, he seemed to be the perfect hero at a time New York City was dealing with strikes and political scandals. The following February his career came to an end when he lost his left leg following a car accident in upstate New York. He disappeared from sight for awhile, but then returned to the limelight as an advocate for the handicapped. Now a possible candidate for a US senate seat, Chapman contacts PI Max Klein as he has received a letter threatening blackmail and possible death. The pair played college baseball against each other and after graduation from Columbia, Klein worked as a lawyer in the D.A.'s office before switching to his career as a gumshoe. Klein's law school friend Chip Contini, the son of east coast mob head Victor Contini, recommended Klein to Chapman. Chapman claims he has no idea what he has done that could lead to blackmail or why anyone would want to kill him. Squeeze Play turns out to be a pretty routine PI novel with Klein getting beat up several times by thugs who he believes work for the older Contini. Chapman is found dead early in the book and soon his attractive widow, who had a rocky relationship with her husband, is making a play for Klein.
The author actually is Paul Benjamin Auster, who went on to write several novels loved by the critics including the New York Trilogy: City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986), The Locked Room (1987), which have been described as "surreal variations of the urban detective story." Auster supposedly wrote this book while living in France in the 1970s during a period that he needed money. While the Avon edition often is listed as a paperback original and offered at high prices by book dealers, an earlier edition was published in 1982. In his memoir, Hand to Mouth; a Chronicle of Early Failure (1997), Auster does not identify the publisher and writes, "production of my novel dragged on for two years. By the time it was printed, he had lost his distributor, had no money left, and to all intents and purposes was dead as a publisher. A few copies made it into a few New York bookstores, hand-delivered by the publisher himself, but the rest of the edition remained in cardboard boxes, gathering dust on the floor of a warehouse somewhere in Brooklyn. For all I know, the books are still there."
Andy McCue, the current president of the Society for American Baseball Research and author of Baseball by the Books: a History and Complete Bibliography of Baseball Fiction (1991), has added to the story. "I have never seen a hardbound copy of Squeeze Play, but do have a 1982 paperback. This could explain the 1982 copyright on the 1984 Avon reprint. The trade-sized paperback has a highly garish pinky/purple cover, with a series of shapes breaking up the cover into several sections, most of them filled with drawings. The drawings are fairly amateurish, as are the production values of the book as a whole. The publisher is listed as Alpha/Omega Book Publishers, Inc. of New York."
An interesting history to a book that likely is not on the radar of anyone other than Auster completists and baseball fiction collectors.