Friday, May 24, 2024

A Rough Edges Rerun: Dead Game - Michael Avallone

In the spirit of full disclosure, Mike Avallone was my friend. When I was a kid, he was one of my favorite writers as soon as I read my first novel by him, which was also the first novel in Ace's MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. series. As I may have mentioned before, that was the book that made me realize a writer could have a distinctive voice, that the work he produced could sound so unique that it couldn't possibly have been written by anybody else. And to this day, I love a book like that, like the ones Avallone so often produced such as his MANNIX tie-in novel and his entries in the Nick Carter series.

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. He was 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 England, but when a friend of mine sent me a copy of this one, the third in the series, I realized I hadn't read it. Sitting down to read an Ed Noon novel that was new to me is a treat I figured I'd never have again. DEAD GAME didn't disappoint me, either.

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.

(This post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on April 24, 2009. There's now an e-book edition of DEAD GAME available on Amazon, a prospect that never entered my head back in 2009.)


Richard Moore said...

I too first read and loved Avallone when I was a kid and met him at a BoucherCon. I had written a ver positive review of his High Noon at Midnight novel and it was nominated for an award at that convention in Philadelphia. He didn’t win but we celebrated just the same. He was a real character and I loved our correspondence and that one meeting.

James Reasoner said...

HIGH NOON AT MIDNIGHT is a perfect example of a book that couldn't have been written by anybody else other than Mike Avallone.