I picked up Dead At Third during a free offer and enjoyed this first installment in Gregory Payette’s Henry Walsh series. Henry is a former Rhode Island cop who moves to Jacksonville, Florida after an incident. He takes a job as head of security for the fictional Jacksonville Sharks baseball club, a major league franchise. But he’s still a cop at heart. One of the team’s players, Lance, is murdered right after the last game of the season. His teammate, Jackie, is accused of the crime. A blood-scarred baseball bat seems to be the murder weapon. The team owner asks Henry to investigate and prove Jackie innocent. Henry’s father had been Lance’s surrogate parent and coach, so Henry had a connection with Lance. And off we go to unwind the tangled web of lies and history that led to the very untimely death of Lance Moreau.
The best aspects of the book are the central characters, which Mr. Payette builds well. They all have deep backstories and complex relationships. As the story unfolds, we learn more and more about Henry’s personal story and come to care about him and his colleague/partner/love interest, Alex. The investigation takes Henry back to his childhood home town in Florida and uncovers old wounds, lies, and cover-ups in the small town. All of the characters come to life in a pleasing way as we follow Henry’s first person narrative through the case to the twisted conclusion.
The story is a quick read, partly owing to the author’s penchant for cutting off scenes and jumping to the next, letting the reader fill in the blanks based on the subsequent events. At times this means that the characters know more than the reader, but it makes for a fast pace as Henry moves from suspect to suspect and witness to witness trying to unravel the truth. The story draws you in and keeps you wanting to know what’s going to happen next. Just what you want from a mystery.
There are a few head-scratchers in the plot, and the whole story seems more minor-league than major league in scale. (For example, the aging major-league star player’s agent, lawyers, the MLB players’ association, and the avalanche of media attention that would have naturally accompanied the murder of a major league player and the arrest of his teammate are nowhere to be found here.) The author would have been better served if the Jacksonville Sharks were a double-A franchise rather than a fictional major league team. At times witnesses with long-held secrets open up to Henry a little more easily and conveniently than makes sense, but the author provides enough context to make it plausible. These are minor blemishes in an otherwise fun and generally well-written story. As the first peek into Henry’s world, it does its job of leaving you wanting to read the next installment. The free book offer got me hooked, for sure.