Three Strikes and You're Dead takes that anger, that frustration, and (let's be honest) that sort of jealous envy and follows it to a violent bottom of the ninth, bases loaded scenario. What begins as some chat room posturing very quickly escalates into a serial murder spree by a man dubbed "The Vindicator," who begins targeting the highest paid players in an effort to force a resumption of play.
This was a solid read, with a fascinating premise at its heart, and a well-developed mystery surrounding it. Draper wastes no time getting the game started, throwing an early fastball that sees a young superstar dead in his hotel bathtub. In the dugout opposite against The Vindicator is a team of amateur sleuths, an idea I originally struggled with, but which actually worked fairly well. The whole better-than-the-police trope ran out of legs long ago, but Draper has enough of a spin on his pitch to make it work here. It's as much a matter of passion and drive, as it is one of skill and luck, that makes them so successful in helping to track down their foe. They also help to ground the reader and provide a much-needed sense of normality in the face of inflated egos, salaries, and vendettas - even as their chase takes us on the road.
The first few innings were a little rough, with some solid storytelling marred by some awkward dialogue but, like any good pitcher, Draper soon settles into his game, and it's smooth sailing from then on out. Just when I thought the premise might be suffering a bit as it headed into the seventh-inning stretch, as the narrative began to feel a little tired, he switches to a knuckleballer who takes the game in an entirely new direction - one involving bombs, drugs, sociopaths, and domestic terrorism. It's a calculated risk, with a set-up that potentially stretches the bounds of credibility a bit too much, but the closer in Draper is strong enough to overcome any late inning jitters.
If Three Strikes and You're Dead were a baseball game, it'd be a slugger's match, with big hits, home runs, and some inspired base-running. There is a bit of a pitcher's duel at the end, as heroes and villains come head-to-head to determine the fate of the season, but it's the action that will have the crowd cheering. The ending might be a bit too perfect, with an epilogue born of optimism and wish-fulfillment, but the post-season is always about hope - no matter how blind or desperate it might be.
Paperback, 192 pages
Published July 24th 2014 by Xlibris