Yesterday I read Murder is My Racquet, a collection of tennis crime fiction stories, a perfect combo of my weekend mystery ritual plus my yearly obsession with the US Open tennis tournament, played just one hour away in Flushing Meadows, Queens. I was lucky enough to visit the Open twice this past week — a challenge for my book-a-day quest but I managed by reading while waiting in line for the gates to open (slightly embarrassing to read about fornication and inebriation in John O’Brien’s Better and be asked for details about “What are you reading there?” by the sweet retirees from the Midwest who had also gotten themselves to the Open at 8:30 in the morning — perhaps it was my honest answer that allowed me to leave them stunned and gaping behind me and race like the wind to secure first-row, unreserved seats in the Grandstand and watch from very up-close Haas, Wozniaki, THE WILLIAMS SISTERS, the Bryan Brothers, and John Isner — what a day!). From this point on in the tournament I will follow the matches via TV and live streaming from www.usopen.org; as long as no one in my house needs clean laundry, fresh food, or milk, I should be fine watching all the tennis I can and reading my book a day as well.
Yes, I love tennis, both watching it and playing it, and I liked most of the stories in this lively collection, gathered together and edited by Otto Penzler, founder of New York City’s The Mysterious Bookshop and The Mysterious Press. The stories do a great job illustrating the joys of tennis along with the trials of the game, including a realistic portrayal of the competition and corruption that exists at all levels, from local courts to international events. Anger management plays a big part in many of the stories (“Terrible Tommy Terhune” by Lawrence Block is a marvelous and scary send-up of temper control on and off court), with some welcome vengeance from umpire and line officials (“The Rematch” by Mike Lupica) and unexpected consequences of a pro trying to help a player with his game (“The Continental Grip” by David Morrell). The competition between players (and their parents) offers very fertile ground for crime as is to be expected (the wonderfully chilling and moving “Six Love” by James W. Hall); less expected is the murder stemming from ball boy angst at Wimbledon (“Needle Match” by Peter Lovesy). There is a humorously chilling warming against unhappily married couples playing as a doubles team, especially when more than just the match is on the line (“A Peach of a Shot” by Daniel Stashtower); my husband and I usually manage to play without bloodletting, having learned that an encouraging pat on the butt goes a lot further than on-court shot analysis (during-the-match criticism can only lead to a serve being hit directly into the back of even the most-beloved spouse).
My favorite story was “Close Shave” by Ridley Pearson, a riveting story of corruption, hauntings, love, and tennis played in the zone. I was hooked from start to finish by this suspenseful tale, held rapt as much by a very important match as by the machinations surrounding its playing, its play-out, and its pay-out.