"The Setup Man," by T.T. Monday; Doubleday; 262 pages; $24.95
Left-handed relief pitcher Johnny Adcock is what's known in baseball terms as a "setup man." As a ballplayer he's got one main job to do come in during the eighth inning and pitch until it's the closer's turn to take over the game and get the glory. At 35 and world weary, Adcock knows his best baseball days may be behind him. Luckily, pitching just one inning (or sometimes to just one hitter) per game has left him with plenty of downtime to pursue a lucrative side career private investigating.
So goes the clever premise of "The Setup Man," the new novel by South Bay author (and Palo Alto Online blogger) T.T. Monday.
Though Adcock, a major leaguer, is well paid, moonlighting as a sporty Sherlock helps him stave off boredom while insuring plenty of funding to support himself, his ex-wife and his teenage daughter once his days on the diamond are through. Like any good detective (or athlete), though, he's mainly in it for the love of the game.
His clientele consists only of other baseball players, and he's built up quite a reputation, generally taking cases of suspected spousal infidelity and other domestic issues. Though it's against the rules, management turns a blind eye to his extracurricular work. When one of his teammates hires him to find out who's been blackmailing his wife with naughty video footage, Adcock is thrown a metaphorical curveball and wades into a much deeper case than he's expecting, rife with murders, Mexican prostitution rings, Los Angeles pornographers and more.
The action in the novel takes place, alternately, on the field/in the clubhouse and off on investigative adventures. As in most P.I. thrillers, Adcock encounters femmes fatale, mentors, nemeses and even a keen would-be sidekick in an earnest young catcher just called up from the minors. The mystery plot is OK and keeps the reader sufficiently intrigued, but it's the baseball angle that gives the book its best moments. Monday clearly loves the sport and peppers "The Setup Man" with baseball tidbits that die-hard fans will appreciate and rookies will learn from.
Adcock is in the bullpen of the fictional "San Jose Bay Dogs," although all the other teams in the book are genuine MLB franchises. Thanks to the San Jose-based setting, the book's got plentiful Bay Area references, which is always fun for local readers. A crucial incident takes place out near Woodside, for example, and Adcock even relaxes at a fancy Palo Alto spa called "Watercourse Om."
This page-turner is definitely for adult readers risqué situations, violence and graphic language abound. The world of America's Pastime, it turns out, is full of seedy situations, at least in Monday's version. Monday doesn't take his plot or characters too seriously, though, even when dealing with life-or-death moments. His way with words lends a welcome darkly comedic tone, with plenty of smile-provoking lines. Adcock as noir narrator is likable not particularly heroic (not even a particularly great ballplayer) but with a perfect sense of deadpan humor. Monday gets a bit awkward at times when writing about issues of race and ethnicity, but the diversity of characters reflects that of the world of baseball and of his California setting.
I'm not sure if Monday plans to chronicle any further adventures of Adcock in future novels but he may want to look into television. With it's clever intertwining of baseball and cases to solve, "The Setup Man" could make one heck of a good Netflix series. Regardless, out just in time for Opening Day, the novel should provide entertainment to readers all summer long, be they commuting on the Caltrain, lounging on the beach or waiting out the seventh-inning stretch.