Years later, a mutual friend put me in touch with Mike, and we corresponded for years after that, off and on all the way up to his death. I know the stories are legion in the publishing business about how hard he was to work with. I know how quick-tempered he was and felt the brunt of it myself on occasion. I know that a lot of his books, especially the later ones, weren't very good. But he was still my friend, a guy who loved pulps and movies and baseball, and a lot of his books, especially the early novels about his most famous character, private eye Ed Noon, are pretty darned good.
Which brings us to DEAD GAME.
I thought I had read all of the Ed Noon novels except for a few late ones that were published only in
It starts simply enough, with Ed being hired to tail a cheating husband. That's what the guy's wife tells Ed, anyway. But instead of visiting a girlfriend, the man heads for the Polo Grounds instead, to take in an exhibition baseball game between the New York Giants and a visiting minor-league team. Then in the ninth inning, in the middle of the action, the minor-league team's third baseman is somehow stabbed to death, and the guy Ed's been following rushes onto the field to search the dead man's uniform before getting away. Ed is left with the questions of who murdered the third baseman, and what was the man he was tailing was looking for.
Well, things get even more complicated than that, of course. A cop gets killed along the way, putting Ed on the bad side of his old friend, Captain Michael Monks. Ed runs into a beautiful redhead and an equally beautiful brunette, the latter named Mimi Tango, one of the great, oddball character names Avallone could come up with. There's a lot of banter, a few fistfights, and Ed gets hit on the head and knocked out a couple of times, a private eye cliché but one that I happen to enjoy. Finally, there's even a gathering of all the suspects where Ed explains what happened and why, leading up to one last burst of action. The "impossible crime" nature of the murder in the middle of the baseball game sort of gets lost in the shuffle along the way, and when the explanation does come, it's hardly what you'd consider a "fair play" solution. But I don't think that's what Avallone was going for. A book like DEAD GAME is supposed to be fast, flippant, and fun . . . and it is.