Ebbetts Field, 1947. Robinson’s penciled in at first, a guy named Burke has his back, Parker benches Spenser (Back Story, 2000, etc.), and we get a gem of a book.
Ex-marine Joseph Burke was shot up so badly at Guadalcanal that it took almost a year before he could walk from one end of a minuscule apartment to the other. And while he was bed-ridden his wife betrayed and deserted him, leaving wounds on top of wounds. But Burke is endlessly tough, physically fearless, and superbly trained to kill—the ideal candidate, Brooklyn Dodgers boss Branch Rickey decides, for a job he has in mind. He’s just brought Jackie Robinson up from Montreal, he tells Burke, and plans to use him to break major-league baseball’s color line, once thought impregnable. Rickey wants Burke to be Robinson's bodyguard, to protect him from the inevitable horde of vicious types who’ll be ready to kill each and every time a black man appears in a Dodgers uniform. Can you do it? Rickey asks. “I got through Guadalcanal,” Burke replies laconically. Robinson and Burke both treat speech as if it were an endangered species, and yet almost from the first they communicate as if they were brothers. Proud, inner-directed Robinson and embittered, closed-off Burke learn to trust and depend on each other. They need to, because it’s just as Rickey foretold: the woods are full of predators, some of them as good with a gun as Burke is. When Ebbetts Field becomes a killing field and Burke makes Robinson’s cause inextricably his own, the bodyguard experiences what he least expected: the sweetness of redemption.
The talk is electric, the pacing breakneck, the cast colorful and empathic. After a couple of so-so efforts, Parker flat out nails it here.