Years ago, when my baseball-playing son was in the eighth grade, he was recruited by the coach of a well-known private high school. We left the meeting unconvinced that changing schools for the sake of a better baseball program was the right choice. Even so, the coach advised us as we left, we should be very careful of the people we let near our son. Everyone would want a piece of him, and not everyone’s motives would be pure. Sure enough, years later our son’s former tennis coach was arrested for having sex with a 13-year-old player, and his former travel baseball coach was arrested for a relationship with a teenage student. We had dodged the worst bullets… but others got him.
Prolific author Lisa Scottoline has set her latest thriller, One Perfect Lie, in the world of high school baseball. As soon as we meet Chris Brennan, as he’s applying for a job as high school government teacher and assistant baseball coach, we know that every word out of his mouth is a lie. He sees the boys on the team as pawns in his plan. And his plan involves fertilizer bombs and hate against the government. At the same time, Scottoline introduces us to the mothers of the three players whom Brennan has targeted – Susan, whose son Raz is struggling to keep his position as the team’s pitcher while dealing with his grief over his father’s death; single mom Heather, whose son Jordan is a junior with a hard fastball and worries about taking Raz’s job; and wealthy Mindy, who rarely worries about spoiled son Evan, the catcher, because she’s so concerned that her husband is cheating on her again.
Despite careful research, Scottoline gets some of the baseball details wrong (she seems to think that a high school team has only one starting pitcher, and he starts all their games, for example). And her narrative voice is simplistic, almost James Patterson-ish. But the tension she creates while detailing the mind games Chris plays in order to infiltrate the team and choose the best player to manipulate is masterful. To me, that was the true horror in the book – how easy it is for someone with these skills to turn friends against each other for his own purposes. I was also very impressed about how Scottoline got into the mind-set of folks who think that the federal government is the country’s true enemy, and how she used current political issues to create a plot that feels both timely and timeless.
During the first third of the book –but late enough that revealing any details would constitute a spoiler—Scottoline pulls the rug out from under readers, revealing things are not as she led us to believe. For me, this made the book more enjoyable, as it allows a true hero to emerge. (Yet a hero who is just as skilled at mind games as the villains of the piece, which gave me great pause.) Still, I also wondered how the book might have turned out had our initial impressions been true.
Thanks to the direct language and quickly moving plot, One Perfect Lie is a very quick read. My Kindle clocked me in at under two-and-half hours. It was a great read on the plane, as I was traveling to attend what will be one of my son’s final competitive baseball games ever, as his thirteen-year career is weeks away from ending. While I enjoyed Scottoline’s portrayal of a manipulative baseball coach as fiction, it couldn’t help but remind me of all the other manipulative coaches out there, and how they destroy kids’ dreams as they so easily replace one hopeful player with another.
Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review.
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