A small-time criminal becomes the star of the prison baseball team in this historical novel inspired by true stories about Sing Sing in the 1930s.
Eddie Marek is newly married and unable to find a job at the start of the Great Depression. Desperate to keep his Filipina wife, Carrie, from becoming a taxi dancer, Eddie starts holding up grocery stores with his partner, “Foxy” Renard. When they’re caught, Renard squeals on Eddie, “implicating him in everything but the teaching of evolution in Tennessee.” Eddie is sent to New York’s notorious Sing Sing prison, where he befriends three other prisoners on his cellblock: Nick Strecker, a tough guy who always has an escape scheme or two going; Salvatore Rossi, the muscle who follows him; and “Sandy” Myers, a swindler who tries to keep his young pal Eddie out of trouble. Eddie also becomes close to Sing Sing’s warden, a reformer named Stewart Beck, his saintly wife, Kathryn, and the prison chaplain, Father Gelasius Bryant. While serving his time, Eddie discovers a talent for playing baseball and, with Beck’s help, is scouted by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Pietrusza (Rothstein: The Life, Death, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, 2011, etc.) has created an almost idyllic picture of prison life related in a conversational, noir-ish style. The story is peppered with picturesque details about day-to-day life in Sing Sing, from emptying the toilet buckets to attending church services. Although the title refers to the cells where the condemned spent their last few hours, Sing Sing’s infamous electric chair never really threatens Eddie or his chums. A baseball story at heart, the episodic plot meanders from the prisoners’ attempts to establish a prison garden to a foiled escape attempt and, finally, Eddie’s attempts to play professional baseball. This easy-reading prison tale avoids the violence or gritty realism that has come to be associated with the genre.
A prison story that plays more softball than hardball.