Sacrifice Fly by Tim O’Mara is a traditional mystery featuring a former New York City cop turned middle school teacher as he tries to find the killer of a student’s father (available October 16, 2012).
I went into reading this novel expecting that, with a title like Sacrifice Fly, there would be a lot of baseball involved. As a sports fan, I was both intrigued and concerned: would Tim O’Mara be able to incorporate America’s national pastime into his murder mystery without alienating those to whom RBI and ERA are just meaningless collections of letters?
Fortunately for the uninitiated, baseball doesn’t play too central a role in this story, instead serving to enhance what’s essentially a sober, thoughtfully paced consideration of life in the less affluent parts of New York City. Baseball is part of the reason why Raymond Donne, a middle school teacher, goes in search of his pupil, Frankie Rivas, whose continued absence from school jeopardizes a scholarship Frankie has earned because of his ability on the diamond.
A little baseball knowledge will help the reader follow along as Donne decodes a tricky puzzle in the middle of the book, but isn’t crucial to enjoying the rest of the story. The sports aficionado will, however, appreciate passages where the author waxes philosophical about sports and personality, such as this one, where Donne, our narrator, is trying to end a discussion by saying:
“Mrs. Mac doesn’t ask a lot of stupid questions.”
“I thought teachers didn’t believe in stupid questions.”
“Yeah, a lot of people think that.” I took a bite of my sandwich, a sip of beer, and pointed at the newspaper in front of Edgar. “Let me see the sports pages.”
Edgar knew this was my way of ending any further conversation. He sighed and slid the paper to me. I turned right to the box scores: the only part of the paper I could trust. Box scores don’t lie or imply, they just are, and if you know how to read them—I mean really read them—you can get the whole story of a game you didn’t see a single pitch of. Life would be a lot less confusing if people could just sum up their days in little one-by-three-inch boxes.
Donne, as you can tell, is a bit of a loner, a serious man who quit the police force ostensibly because of a physical injury before devoting his life to teaching kids who need special attention. He’s invested in his kids but can’t quite turn off the policeman’s brain he’s relied on for so long. While searching for Frankie, he discovers the body of Frankie’s murdered dad, but no Frankie and no Milagros, Frankie’s younger sister, either. The police suspect that Frankie might be responsible for the killing, but Donne is certain this isn’t so, and finds himself drawn back into the life he thought he’d forsaken as he seeks to bring Frankie back to safety. It’s a self-feeding loop, too: his knowledge of what it’s like to be a cop is part of what drives him to stay involved with the officers on the case:
Despite [Detective] Royce’s assurances, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was not doing all that could be done to find Frankie and Milagros. The mountain of files on his desk proved that. I knew how things worked, how the shit just kept coming. There was a time when I lived off the juice that came from that shit piling up. The nonstop flow of other people’s problems. I’d walk into the house in my civilian clothes and come back out in blue, ready to take on whatever came my way. My gun, my shield, my radio—all just shovels to clean up other people’s shit.
Donne’s main obstacle toward finding Frankie is that, being a civilian now, he can’t call upon the resources readily available to the men in blue. His blown-out knees don’t help either. Donne has to rely on his determination, smarts, and a few well-placed connections (including a memorable, over-eager police-groupie named Edgar Martinez O’Brien) to help him navigate the mean streets of Brooklyn as he attempts to solve the murder while protecting the people he loves.
Tim O’Mara has written a psychologically convincing portrait of neighborhood life and the toll it takes on good men and women struggling to survive the big city with dignity intact. He throws in a few interesting twists, and weaves in important clues without being obvious, but I mostly enjoyed the authenticity of his dialog and characterization. Donne, especially, is a great creation in an intriguing debut novel.
Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.