Joseph Burke

Created by Robert B. Parker

The creator of Spenser just couldn’t seem to keep his paws off the past.

His occasional forays into the past, including his fresh stab at the legend of Wyatt Earp (2001’s Gunman’s Rhapsody) and his period-piece dabblings with Chandler’s Marlowe (Poodle Springs and Perchance To Dream) had been generally well-received by fans and even, begrudgingly, by critics.

In 2004, he took another whack at it, journeying back to 1947 with Double Play, a taut thriller about former boxer and wounded World War II vet named JOSEPH BURKE hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers to protect Jackie Robinson, who’s just been brought up from the Montreal Royals farm team to break major league baseball’s colour barrier. Parker offers a deftly drawn but sensitive portrait of a bygone era, and gives us an intriguing, compelling character in Burke, a survivor of both Guadacanal and a post-war busted marriage who just doesn’t give much of a damn about anything anymore, but is slowly learning that maybe, just maybe, there are still things worth fighting for.

Even better, Parker offered a glimpse into his own past, mixing his storytelling with apparently firsthand reminiscences (in chapters conveniently titled “Bobby”) of growing up in Boston as a devoted Dodgers fan, a move that, according to Publisher’s Weekly, “adds resonance and a sense of wonder to the taut narrative.”

I’ve read it myself, and I’ve got to agree — this was one fine book, a rich, emotional page-turner that echoes long after you put it down, perhaps Parker’s best book in years. But of course, because it was Parker and he wrote so damn well and so damn often and always made it look so damn easy, it didn’t get half the critical attention it deserved.

A sadly overlooked gem well worth looking for.


  • Double Play was an expanded version of a rare Parker short story, “Harlem Nocturne,” which appeared in the 2001 baseball-themed anthology, Murderer’s Row, edited by Otto Penzler. Parker also wrote the introduction.


  • “Parker, always a clean writer, has never written so spare and tight a book; this should be required reading for all aspiring storytellers. Parker fans will recognize with joy many of the author’s lifelong themes (primarily, honor and the redemptive power of love), and in the Burke/Robinson dynamic, echoes of Spenser/Hawk (the PI’s black colleague). Here they will treasure the very essence of Parker in a masterful recreation of a turbulent era that’s not only a great and gripping crime novel but also one of the most evocative baseball novels ever written.”
    — Publisher’s Weekly



Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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