Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Tomb That Ruth Built - Audiobook Review

Title: The Tomb That Ruth Built: Mickey Rawlings, Book 7
Author: Troy Soos
Narrator: Johnny Heller
Unabridged Length: 6 h, 39 m
Published by Common Mode, Abbreviated Audio, 2015
Genres: Mysteries & Thrillers, Historical Fiction, Sports

From the Publisher:
The Roaring Twenties: America is dancing to jazz, gangsters are selling bootleg liquor, and the New York Yankees are building a baseball dynasty. In 1923, Yankee Stadium opens and Babe Ruth is about to lead the team to its first world’s championship. But the promising season gets off to an ominous start when the body of a murdered bootlegger is found buried in the new ballpark. Utility infielder Mickey Rawlings, in his first year with the Yankees, is called to investigate and soon gets caught in the crossfire of rival gangsters. The Tomb That Ruth Built is the seventh in Troy Soos’s acclaimed Mickey Rawlings baseball mystery series.

My Review:

My earliest baseball memories include watching the New York Yankees on our family black & white TV with my dad in the late 50s through 1964; the era of Mantle, Maris, Ford, and Berra. I learned a lot of Yankee history from my dad and checked out every book I could find about the early Yankees, from my elementary school and public libraries.

With that background, my fondness of cozy mysteries, and the narration by master storyteller Johnny Heller; I decided this audiobook had the potential to be a home run, so I bought it.

Utility infielder Mickey Rawlings has been traded to the 1923 New York Yankees. The Yankees have not yet won a World Series, getting beaten by the New York Giants in both 1921 and 1922. Yankee Stadium is set to open. Babe Ruth is a star, but also a party animal. Rawlings has been in the major leagues for a dozen years, with six different teams. He is now assigned as Ruth’s roommate for road games, in part to keep the Babe somewhat in line.

Hopes are running high for the Yankees and their magnificent new stadium. Just before opening day, the body of a bootlegger is found in the wall behind one of the concession stands. Unfortunately, a list of “clients” is also found on the body and Babe Ruth is on that list. To help avoid scandal, the Yankees ownership asks Mickey to discretely investigate, since he played one season with the deceased, a former major league pitcher, and since he has a reputation in solving crimes. This leads Mickey into a world of speakeasies, gangsters, movie producers, and other nefarious characters; when all Mickey really wants to do is play baseball.

I was surprised by all of the detail and accuracy of the 1923 baseball season from author Troy Soos as he crafted this fictional story within the context of New York City in the roaring twenties.

He worked the names of all of the real Yankee starters and coaches of 1923 into the story, such as Joe Dugan, Wally Pipp, Bob Meusel, Whitey Witt, and Bob Shawkey; manager Miller Huggins and coach Charley O’Leary; team owners Jacob Ruppert and Cap Huston; general manager Ed Barrow, as well as many opposing players.

The scores were accurate, as were the batting orders and locations of the games mentioned. From the start of the book in New Orleans for spring training when we meet the new rookie Hinkey Haines, all the way to the signing of Lou Gehrig, Soos maintains amazing accuracy while weaving fictional player Mickey Rawlings throughout ballgames and off-field sleuthing.

I even checked out Hinkey Haines, as the story said he preferred football and was a two-time All-American. True, as Haines played only one season with the Yankees before returning to football, and has the distinction of being the only pro sports player to play on national championship teams in both baseball and football.

One of my favorite scenes is when Mickey Rawlings (voiced by Johnny Heller) is coaching first base and gets tossed from a game by umpire Johnny Heller, after inadvertently being bumped into the umpire by Babe Ruth after a disputed play at first. I find it amusing that Soos adds the Heller character. Nice touch!

The Tomb That Ruth Built is a fantastic listen; it's a well written, interesting, and entertaining, baseball cozy mystery set in NYC in the roaring twenties. The performance characterizations, the pacing, and the delivery are spot-on. Johnny Heller is Mickey Rawlings, and he does a good job with all of the other characters, too.

There was a 15 year gap between the sixth entry in the series and “The Tomb That Ruth Built” and while this new episode works fine as a standalone listen, I plan to listen to the others in the series, all brought to life by Heller. The story is open-ended and I hope there will be more to this series. Troy Soos, Johnny Heller, classic baseball, and mystery is a winning combination. Give it a listen!

Other Mickey Rawlings titles:

Pick-Off Play: Mickey Rawlings, Short Story: Abbreviated Audio (2013)
Hanging Curve: Mickey Rawlings, Book 6: Recorded Books (1999)
The Cincinnati Red Stalkings: Mickey Rawlings, Book 5: Recorded Books (1998)
Hunting a Detroit Tiger:  Mickey Rawlings, Book 4: Recorded Books (1997)
Murder at Wrigley Field: Mickey Rawlings, Book 3: Recorded Books (1996)
Murder at Ebbets Field: Mickey Rawlings, Book 2: Recorded Books (1995)
Murder at Fenway Park: Mickey Rawlings, Book 1: Recorded Books (1994) 

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