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on 8 September 2010
1940s America was not a lot of fun for most people, especially if you were poor and black. However, there is one thing that a racist hates more than a poor black person and that is a rich black person. Jackie Robinson is the first black ball player to make it into the major leagues and he need protection from both the white and black communities. This role is left up to Joseph Burke, a man who fights like he has nothing to live for. Can they both make it through the season intact? Robert B Parker is a master of the understated crime book. He is able to distil the likes of classic noir writer Chandler and give it a modern edge. `Double Play' is slightly different as it is not strictly a crime book, but with the various low lifes on offer, it may as well be.

The book is structured rather strangely over far too many small chapters. The story of Burke is interspersed with two other people who are totally separate from the main events. This triple narrative works towards the end of the book, but for the first few chapters it was annoying to be repeatedly led down blind allies. Parker's custom style is still very clear, with a dry wit and sardonic smile on ever page. The issues of race and class in late 40s America are treated with the skilled casualness he always brings to a book. As a read it was quick and entertaining, but slightly undermined by an overly complex structure.
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Double Play introduces a new Parker hero, Joseph Burke, who barely survived a machine gun at Guadalcanal while serving as a Marine in World War II. Back in the states, he doesn't know where he is . . . but he's sure someone's out to get him. After a long physical recovery, his emotional recovery just begins as the story opens.
Burke is a tough guy, and (like Spenser) takes up boxing. But he's better at pounding away and surviving a punch than "floating like a bee" and he soon has to find another line of work. Having scruples makes him a poor enforcer, so he finds himself becoming a body guard. His first job is for a woman who needs to be protected from an abusive boyfriend who's connected . . . and her own bad habits. When that job ends, Burke finds himself in Brooklyn being asked to play the same role for Dodger rookie Jackie Robinson.
The book reminds me of Huckleberry Finn with Jim on the Mississippi in many ways, as Burke finds himself not fitting into either the African-American or the WASP communities as he does his bodyguard work. Burke's awareness of what Jackie Robinson is going through grows, and the reader finds himself taken back to a world that we are hopefully leaving behind as fast as possible where race counted rather than what you did.
Atop of this setting, Mr. Parker overlays gangland vendettas, a love story and his own perspective as a 15 year old on that fateful season in Brooklyn.
For secondary entertainment, you can match up each character in the story to a character from the Spenser books. Although I think Susan would be annoyed to be matched to many of these female characters.

The book has a weakness though that's annoying. It's a little too glib and easy about dealing with the racial hatred of the times. You end up feeling like you are reading about hazing rather than hate.
Any Spenser fan will enjoy seeing the variety of seeing the challenges of doing the right thing from the perspective of pain and numbness rather than from joy and happiness.
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on 9 June 2014
I have been reading the Jesse Stone series and love the way the banter is written along with the unusual back stories. I therefore did not expect the story line of Double Play. It turns out to be a exceptional read with insight into the prejudices and dangers probably encountered by Jackie Robinson. How true the other characters are to real life is not clear
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on 23 July 2014
For the first 2 chapters' I wasn't sure, as I had been reading his Jesse Stone series which is different, but once into it , I really enjoyed this book.
Just enough suspense, a little romance.
A well balanced combination
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VINE VOICEon 11 September 2006
The baseball storyline made me think twice before buying this new Parker novel. I'm a big fan of his crime novels, in particular his Spenser books (which are among the best of the crowded crime genre). I needn't have worried - there is plenty of crime and intrigue to leaven the occassional dash of the 'Great American Pastime'. But what truly marks this powerful book apart is Parker's effortless prose style: smooth, economical and effortless - there are few writers, irrespective of genre who can match the purity and clarity of Parker's prose.

Moving, gripping and beguiling - this is one of the best books I have read in the past twelve months. Parker is truly touched by genius.
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on 22 March 2015
This is simply the best thing I have read for as long as I can remember. Parker like his characters says so much with so few words. That may not sound like praise but it is.
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Before he goes off to World War II an 18-year old Marine, Joseph Burke, meets Carole, a 25-year old U.S.O. hostess. They get married before he goes off to the Pacific, but when he returns home after having been wounded at Guadalcanal, she is gone. The two blows are too much for Burke and after trying a career as a boxer he ends up being a muscle man. Doing his job he makes some enemies and has to move on to another job, which comes from Branch Rickey, the owner and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Rickey is bringing Jackie Robinson up from Montreal to play with the Dodgers in the 1947 season. Burke is hired to protect Robinson. Primarily Burke is to protect Robinson from people who might want to kill him for being a Negro, but Burke also has to protect Robinson from himself. Rickey has made Robinson promise to turn the other cheek for two years, and tells the ballplayer: "You can't ever let down. You're under a microscope. You can't drink. You can't be sexually indiscreet. You can't have opinions about things. You play hard and clean and stay quiet."
Given that speech, and the picture of a baseball with Jackie Robinson's signature and a bullet hole that appears on the cover, we are not surprised that in "Double Play" things get out of hand. What is surprising is that the precipitating act is Robinson's refusal to accept a bottle of champagne (who offers the bubbly has more to do with it). So with all of the death threats Robinson is getting for daring to play baseball with white players, it is something else that threatens to get him killed. Fortunately Burke is there to help. Unfortunately, Burke's presence ends up complicating the situation to the point that he needs help.
Parker admits in the author's note before the start of his novel that this "may be more Burke's story than Jackie's," which is certainly true. But he also contends that "without Jackie, Burke would have had no story," and I am not willing to buy into that. After all, Rickey does not make his offer until Chapter 17 and when we come to the final power play Jackie is not around. More importantly, throughout the book Burke is very much in mode of Spenser for Hire, both in terms of his manner of speaking and his way of persuading people to take him seriously or to help see things his way. Jackie Robinson is Jackie Robinson, but here he is a supporting character and it is hard not to want to have more of him in the book because he is such a compelling figure.
Given that I wanted less Burke and more Jackie, and did not really care for Lauren's plight, I was less enthralled by this novel than I had hoped to be. But what salvages "Double Play" is that scattered through the chapters are memories from "Bobby," as Parker recalls what it was like as a 15-year-old living in Boston to follow Jackie Robinson's historic 1947 season. These reminiscences do not exactly parallel the story or even Burke's careful thoughts on what Robinson is doing, but they do give the book another dimension that adds some necessary depth.
Parker makes a conscious decision to pretty much ignore what Jackie Robinson does on the playing field. There are rare mentions of anything he does during a game. In this novel if Robinson tries to steal home he is thrown out. Burke might note that Robinson has a hit and a stolen base, but not how it mattered to the game. If Jackie gets hit by a pitch and the crowd is buzzing in anticipation of a stolen base, then Pee Wee Reese is hitting into a double play on the first pitch. For that matter, Robinson's teammates are silent as well. Burke recognizes that Reese supports having Robinson on the team and Dixie Walker does not. Yet none of that matters. What does is that Jackie Robinson is playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Major Leagues. It his first game Jackie did not get a hit, but the color barrier was broken and that was all that really mattered.
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on 1 April 2015
Different to his usual, but still enjoyed it .
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on 28 December 2014
Up to his normal standard. A gripping read.
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VINE VOICEon 21 April 2013
I admit it - I'm a fan of Robert B Parker. I think I've read nearly all his books, but somehow I missed this one.
This novel has no connection with any of the series that Parker wrote - it's a stand alone.
Set at the end of WWII, it follows one Joseph Burke, who has been wounded in the Pacific war. Abandoned by the wife he left behind, he drifts from job to job, ending up as a bodyguard to Jackie Robinson, a black baseball player for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1947, that was not a popular move by the Dodgers - prejudice was still very strong in the US.
Burke holds most of the values that many of Parker's heroes do - self-reliance, strong character and always doing what's right. Marry this in to Parker's love of baseball and you have a pretty good book with a strong story line.
My only critcism would be the odd chapter in italics detailing "Bobby", a kid following baseball at the time. I assume - perhaps wrongly, I don't know - that this is autobiographical. It brings nothing to the story, in my opinion, and merely serves to disrupt it. Otherwise - excellent.
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