In recent years, the American publishing industry has relied increasingly on “niche marketing.” Publishers release books catering to certain demographics rather than marketing them to the public in general.
With the publication of Murder at the Foul Line: Original Tales of Hoop Dreams and Deaths, editor and Mysterious Press founder Otto Penzler elevates niche-finding to a new level, catering exclusively to mystery-reading basketball fans.
Unfortunately for both Penzler and his niche, Murder at the Foul Line is bound to disappoint even die-in-the-wool fans of hoops or Holmes alike.
Allegedly penned by “today’s great writers,” according to the book’s cover, the collection of short tales offer about as much suspense as a Microsoft Word user’s manual. The basketball theme seems forced, most of the stories containing only trace references to the sport.
Failing to satisfy even its very specific target demographic, Murder at the Foul Line is to be avoided at all costs by casual readers. Indeed, some of the successful mystery writers who contributed to the book wish they had done the same.
Authors like Lawrence Block, Jeffrey Deaver and Robert B. Parker-giants within their genre-prove to have strayed into unfamiliar waters when it comes to basketball.
Only Mike Lupica, a former New York Nets beat writer, seems to have any inkling of a basketball player’s life off the court.
Unbelievable at best, the twists and turns taken by these stories leave the reader lagging behind like a fat kid playing full court press.
The primary complaint to be made about the stories in Murder at the Foul Line, however, involves the generational disconnect between the writers and their characters.
As Penzler himself writes in his introduction, “basketball was a little different when [he] was growing up.”
With few exceptions, the writers seem to be taken in by racial and generational stereotypes, portraying their African-American basketball players as unintelligent slaves to sex, drugs and violence.
Ignoring the Michael Jordans and Magic Johnsons of the game-players who exuded class-the contributors all seem to have taken Ron Artest as their model.
Eventually, however, the racial and generational disconnect leads to an ultimate redemption-of sorts-as the players’ dialogue becomes absurdly and humorously overdone.
“Just around midnight,” writes George Pelecanos in String Music, “when I was fixin’ to go out, my moms walked into my room. I was sittin’ on the edge of my bed, lacin’ up my Timbies, listening to PGC comin’ from the box, Tigger doin’ his shout-outs and then moving right into the new Jay-Z, which is tight.”
Ultimately, Murder at the Foul Line does infinitely more harm than good. Damaging the reputations of the contributing writers, insulting the intelligence of any unsuspecting readers, and perpetuating negative stereotypes, Murder at the Foul Line is one book that should’ve never come off the bench.
Peter Chomko may be reached at email@example.com.