Sportswriter Syken’s fiction debut takes you inside the world of a pro football punter.
After five years with the Philadelphia Sentinels, Nick Gallow still gets no respect. His girlfriend Jessica’s husband, Federal Reserve officer Dan Steagall, seems so untroubled by their affair that he sends Nick email invitations to dinner at their place. Since Nick spends less than an hour a year on the playing field, it’s no surprise that Jai "JC" Carson, the Sentinels’ star linebacker, doesn’t even recognize his teammate when Nick walks into Stark’s Steakhouse with Samuel Sault, the green defensive end the team has just signed, and Cecil Wilson, their mutual agent. When Sam and Cecil get shot, Sam fatally, before Nick’s eyes a few hours after JC trash-talks Sam on his way out of the restaurant, Detective Rizotti, of the Philadelphia police, treats Nick as an incompetent witness who couldn’t even get the shooter’s license-plate number or, even worse, as a suspect himself. Even Melody, the friendly Stark’s waitress who accepts from Nick the $500 bottle of champagne Cecil tried to send JC before he sauntered out, vanishes from under Nick’s nose when he finds out her last name. Syken’s dialogue goes down as smoothly as one of the cocktails Nick’s training regimen forbids, and he spins a series of nifty scenes, though you can’t help feeling that characters pop in and out of the story at the author’s whim rather than according to the logic of their own desires. That goes for the killer, whom even the wiliest genre veterans won’t spot until he turns up out of nowhere just in time to get hit by the curtain that comes crashing down.
Syken does so well with small-scale matters that you can’t help rooting for him to master the business of unfolding a story that’s more than a succession of effective scenes.