A long-forgotten football tournament sparks a mystery decades later.
In Romeo’s fiction debut, Clint Ronson, a Vietnam veteran earning a living in 1974 Pittsburgh as a private investigator, runs across a strange story from the city’s past. Around 1905 or 1906, a newspaper called the Pittsburgh Sentry organized a “world championship” football tournament and promised a cash prize to the winner. Records of the tournament remain spotty at best—the newspaper long ago went bankrupt and disappeared. An emissary from the descendant of the paper’s original publisher asks Ronson to find out which team actually won the contest and whether any of its players are still alive and entitled to a share of the prize. (The publisher’s descendant, a powerful and slightly enigmatic city councilman, complicates Ronson’s job.) The detective takes the case, at first thinking it represents easy money: surely there must be records of the tournament’s outcome somewhere. But the task proves to be far more difficult than it first seems (and, needless to say, the councilman harbors deeper motivations than simple historical curiosity). As Ronson looks further into the matter, Romeo splits his narrative into two strands, showing readers the case as it develops but also setting some chapters back in 1906. The author has obviously studied both eras thoroughly, but his characters never feel like the products of research; the novel’s unfolding dramatics is smoothly, believably delivered. As Ronson delves into the mystery of that long-ago tournament—and as the 1906 chapters show readers that mystery as it develops—the many changes that have taken place in football are brought to life (this is very intentionally, though not exclusively, a book for fans of the game). The author subtly interweaves the two time periods without letting either one spoil the withheld plot surprises of the other. Ronson himself is a low-key, likable sleuth, and although the psychic element running through the tale feels like a stretch, the main action is convincingly conveyed.
A fast-paced and gripping novel about long-buried secrets in the sports past of Pittsburgh.