Reviewed by: Sooz
Approximate word count: 105,000-110,000 words
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Matthew Callan writes about baseball for the Amazin’ Avenues, Baseball Prospectus, The Awl and other publications. He received an MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College. You can learn more about Callan and his work at his website.
Is baseball really a spy game? In Hang a Crooked Number it is. Backstop is a minor league catcher whose world is falling apart. He can hit, he can’t eat, and his best friend goes missing. Yet it seems as though he can’t do anything about any of his problems – until The Scouts, a faction of old-school spies, wrap him up in a conspiracy that he has to figure out.
I purposely picked Hang a Crooked Number because I’m a huge baseball fan. When selecting the book, I really didn’t know anything more than baseball was involved, and yet it was not what I expected.
Backstop – the main character’s handle – is a spy that is part of an agency that uses baseball to gather intelligence. Baseball is not just an American sport anymore but has become popular in other parts of the world such as Asia and Latin America. This Society can send baseball players to these locations rather easily.
Could this happen? Why not? It’s not out of the realm of possibility, which is what made the premise of the book intriguing.
We don’t learn too much about The Society. It’s been operating for many years and some baseball players have been part of covert operations on barnstorming tours overseas. Not many people in the government even know about the clandestine operation. Instead, there are many secrets, lots of mistrust and Backstop finds himself in the middle of all of it with no idea where to turn.
Baseball fans should enjoy this book. It takes sabremetrics to a whole new level where the spies use the advanced statistics to ensure their place in the game.
While I enjoyed the book, I did have a few issues with it. At times, it felt as though author Matthew Callen overwrote. The description, the backstories were a bit too much. This could have been cut down with tighter sentences.
I was also unsatisfied with the way it wrapped up – or felt as though it didn’t really wrap up. There were some answers, but Backstop was just given the run around and was essentially a pawn in a much bigger problem. Throughout the whole book, he was constantly told what his handlers and other spies wanted him know to get him to play their game. Backstop was often a bystander in his own life and we had to watch.
In a way, I felt bad for Backstop. While he got to play baseball with the hopes of making the Majors, it didn’t really seem as though the work he did for the spy agency was very important to The Society as a whole but just a few people with a vendetta.
No major issues.
Rating: ***Three Stars