Richard Heller, a man with a CV that is startling in its wide-ranging reach, has produced in print form the full version of a book that was originally designed to be released in chapters on the internet: an updated Charles Dickens, so to speak. At over 500 pages it is a bit of a daunting read, but as the author disarmingly notes in his Preface, he couldn't bear to see his characters lose any of their storylines. Stylistically, it is unusual in that the author has chose to give his main characters their 'voice' in individual fonts. Does it work? Well, this jury's still out on that but it does give the book a genuinely singular look. It's always difficult to gauge a cricket book's appeal and fiction is especially tricky. I would hazard a guess that this book would appeal more to say, a teenage audience than to more senior readers. That's not meant to write it off as 'teenage fiction', rather to feel that the trials, tribulations, angsts and exhilarations within would see people from that age group most likely to identify with the hero (and perhaps others, both male and female). It's difficult to review fiction without giving away the plot(s) so let's say that our talented cricketing hero does not enjoy the happiest of home lives but does find happiness in various ways, not all of them cricket-related. It's a book that will attract both bouquets and brickbats, I suspect, but it certainly does attempt to strike out in a new direction and to breathe life into that most difficult of formats, cricket fiction. --John Symons, Cricket Society
Can't remember relishing any cricket fiction so much --Matthew Norman, Evening Standard
A couple of weeks ago I reviewed A Tale of Ten Wickets by onetime Mail on Sunday writer Richard Heller. This is a sequel of sorts, in that he employs some of the characters from that book, albeit in minor roles. As it appears to be taking part some years after the events in that story (it could even be in real time, given that they were written 16 years apart), most of the main characters from this book are far too young to have featured in both. The story here centres on the friendship between Steve, 16, who is sensitive, intelligent and athletic, the only child of parents seemingly too busy to give him much attention, and Cal, a younger, vulnerable, artistically gifted boy who has suffered from bullying in the past. Both live for their cricket - Steve as a fast bowling all-rounder, Cal as a left-arm spinner who impresses Steve on their first meeting, at the nets, with his variations. Before long Steve is being invited home to meet Cal's mother Alice, a children's lawyer - but it soon becomes apparent that he has had an unhappy childhood himself, and is still grieving for the uncle he worshipped and whose love of reading he has inherited. As Steve's cricket starts to take off and also encompasses coaching, we are re-introduced to many of the characters from A Tale of Ten Wickets such as Tim Morrow, a young boy in the earlier book but now an England batsman (Heller also brings himself, or at least someone with his name, into the plot late on, which seems odd, to say the least). He also acquires a girlfriend and a new school, both of which bring him much happiness. A word here about the style, which takes some getting used to. There is no narrative in the normal sense of the word. Everything is related in the first person, but by several of the main characters - either thought, spoken, or told after the event. Each of them is represented by a different font. It isn't as confusing as it may sound, and it helps the story to move at a fast pace, like Steve's bowling. Not strictly a book about cricket, but one in which cricket plays a large part in helping two damaged youngsters, I did find it a little over-sentimental at times. Some of the young people portrayed here are implausibly sweet-natured, with Steve himself verging on saintliness - some of us who have been parents of teenagers ourselves may have had a somewhat different experience. But the writer does a good job of conveying the insecurities and awkwardness of adolescence, while the cricket scenes are, for the most part, true to life. Certainly worth checking out. --David Taylor, Cricketweb
Richard Heller is an author and journalist. He was a finalist in BBC Television's Mastermind 2008 series, answering questions on WC Fields; Naploleon's family; the Rodgers and Hart songbook. He was joint runner-up in 1996, answering questions on President Harry Truman; British politics between the wars; Sir Garry Sobers. From 1981 to 1983 he was chief of staff to Rt Hon Denis Healey MP, then Deptuy Leader of the Labour Party. He has worked in the movie business, in this country and Hollywood, and contributed additional dialogue to a motion picture called Cycle Sluts Versus The Zombie Ghouls. He has played cricket for many teams since the 1950s, as a medium-pace bowler who moves the ball both ways off the bat.