Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review: “The Greatest Player Who Never Lived” ☺☺

The reviewer from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer referred to The Greatest Player Who Never Lived as “Dual (sic - I think he meant “Equal”) parts John Grisham and John Feinstein”; I’d throw in a dash of Michael Crichton, too – but not in a good way. The book opens with the same annoying ploy which the late Mr Crichton used in several of his books – a prologue, referring to seemingly-real events, which is designed to blur the line between fact and fiction, setting the stage for the reader to believe that the story being presented “really happened”. Mr Veron does this with his prologue – and it’s just annoying. We know this book is fiction – so why the pretense of reality? At least Michael Crichton followed this device with densely-plotted, well-written stories –  Mr Veron does not.

Robert Tyre (“Bobby”) Jones is one the greatest and most revered figures in the history of the game of golf, and if you want your golf novel to attract attention, working Bobby Jones into the story is a good idea. That’s what J. Michael Veron must have been thinking when he outlined the plot for The Greatest Player Who Never Lived. The problem is that you must have a plausible storyline in which to place Bobby Jones, as well as the fictional characters of your invention, or the whole thing falls apart. The scenario posited by Mr Veron – that of an unknown golf prodigy, on the run from a trumped-up murder charge,  who is set up with golf matches against the greats of 20th-century golf by the greatest amateur golfer of all time, Bobby Jones, is just ridiculous.

From the weak opening the book goes downhill, frankly. The first half serves as a showcase for a lot of golf history trivia, which, if you've dug deep enough into the “Golf” section at your local library or bookstore to find this book, you probably already know. This background – which is really just padding for a woefully thin storyline – is “discovered” by law intern Charlie Hunter as he works a summer job in an Atlanta law firm cataloging old files supposedly left behind by Bobby Jones – a laughable premise. Inserting fictional characters into historical events (and vice versa) is difficult, however, and better writers than Mr Veron have failed miserably in their attempts to do so (just read James Michener’s Space if you don’t believe me).

Another challenging task for an author is writing tense, believable courtroom drama (à la John Grisham). The second half of the book is where Mr Veron's dream of being another John Grisham surfaces – and where Mr Veron shows that he is no John Grisham – in a weakly-plotted, but agonizingly-detailed, court case centered on the revelations unearthed by young Mr Hunter in Bobby Jones’ old files. Mr Grisham has nothing to fear – unless he aspires to recognition as a USGA insider, his status as which Mr Veron unashamedly trots out in the latter portion of the story. Even the twist at the end – which I won’t reveal, as it would be a spoiler, even though it is telegraphed to the reader well before it’s unveiled – while clever, cannot save the story.

In summation, then – Mr Veron should stick to writing legal briefs, and palling around with his fellow USGA committee members, and leave golf writing to folks who are good at it.

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