A tale of mystery, romance, and baseball comes to you from the pen of Greg Messel.
It's 1957. Sam Slater is a minor league baseball player for the San Francisco Seals. But his time as a baseball player is almost done. This is the Seals' last season before San Francisco becomes a major league town and welcomes the Giants.
The plan is for Sam to join his friend Jimmy's private detective agency. When Jimmy is murdered, Sam must figure out why. Along the way, he meets beautiful TWA stewardess, Amelia Ryan. Together they work to solve the mystery behind Jimmy's death. The discovery of a young woman's body on the beach brings new dangers, along with new twists and turns.
In Last of the Seals, author Greg Messel uses historical photos to complement an engaging story filled with mystery, romance, and baseball. Already needing to cope with the end of his baseball career, Sam must figure out why Jimmy was murdered. He has no experience as a private investigator, and was planning on having Jimmy's help to learn the ropes. Now, he's forced to go it alone.
Then walks in Amelia Ryan. An Elvis-obsessed TWA stewardess. A beautiful bombshell, she immediately catches Sam's eye, and soon their romance is in full swing. But Amelia is more than a pretty face. She has a knack for getting information from people.
In addition to the two main characters, Sam's cop buddy Vince, Amelia's family, the Steeles, who hire Sam to locate their missing daughter, Jimmy's widow and young son, and Jimmy's assistant Janet, all blend into the storyline to create a cast of people you want to know better.
Messel is obviously knowledgeable about the time period, the area in which the book is set, and baseball, which is definitely a strength in Last of the Seals. This is a very plot-driven novel, so character-driven readers might be at a disadvantage. While the characters are well-developed, you really don't get inside their heads as much as you would if the characters propelled the story along.
There are a couple of things that nagged me. The first is that the investigation into Jimmy's murder doesn't seem to be as much of a focus for Sam as I thought it would be. Granted, when it happens, he's still playing for the Seals, so the amount of time he can dedicate to the investigation is limited, but he doesn't seem passionate about figuring out what happened to his best friend. When I consider other murder mysteries where a best friend investigates a murder, they are driven to uncover what happened. Sam takes on an additional case while he's tracking down Jimmy's murderer. And, his blossoming relationship with Amelia proves to be a distraction. It gave me the feeling that solving Jimmy's murder was just one line item on Sam's to-do list instead of seeing Sam as a hurting best friend who needs to know why anyone would kill Jimmy.
The other thing I found odd about how the storyline evolved was that in some ways this felt more like a cozy mystery than a detective novel. Maybe I've watched too much Magnum P.I. and Rockford Files, but the main character is always in the middle of catching the bad guy. In Last of the Seals, Sam figures out who killed Jimmy, but then takes off with Amelia to stay out of danger. Even elderly Mrs. Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote was in the middle of the melee most of the time. In the secondary investigation Sam was more hands-on, so that helped round out the plot.
Overall, I enjoyed Last of the Seals, and look forward to reviewing Deadly Plunge, the second Sam Slater novel, later in the month.