I don't play golf. Never have. My last experience on a golf course was some 40 years ago, when my father deigned to permit me to carry his golf bag around the Raymond Golf Course in Columbus, Ohio. I tried to get a drink from a water fountain on the 13th green or so and discovered I was sharing the nozzle with a spider. I let fly with a driver, resulting in 1) a bent shaft and 2) a damaged water fountain, which could be seen spurting water 15 feet into the air form all vantage points on the course. I haven't been back. No desire.
Accordingly, if I'm going to recommend a murder mystery that has as its setting the Masters Tournament in Augusta Georgia, you've got to figure that it has something going for it besides some rather innovative ways to murder golfers. Indeed, FINAL ROUND by William Bernhardt has lots of things going for it. The biggest one is that it's a lot of fun.
FINAL ROUND does not aspire to be great literature; Bernhardt never commits the sin of taking himself, or his characters, too seriously. Conner Cross, who is the main focus of FINAL ROUND, is the PGA bad boy, a combination of Chevy Chase and John McEnroe. He is so busy entertaining everyone, actually, that he often forgets his game. Cross makes it into the Masters Tournament, golf's most prestigious event, by the skin of his teeth. He has cause to regret it, however. Murders begin occurring on the eve of the tournament, and it looks more and more as if Cross is the culprit. The powers that be in the PGA would like nothing more than to have a reason to exclude Cross from the tournament; while he doesn't break the prodigious set of rules governing conduct, he certainly shatters the spirit of them. As bodies begin piling up around him, however, Cross finds that he must not only discover who the real murderer is, but find his own game as well. It's hard to pick which will be the more difficult task.
Bernhardt occasionally seems torn between writing a comedy and writing a straight mystery but, for the most part, does not forget that the goal of writing is, ultimately, to entertain. And this he does. What is really interesting, however, is that Bernhardt intermittently breaks up the action with anecdotes from past Masters Tournaments. These alone are worth the price of admission. Some of them are stranger than the events recounted in Bernhardt's work of fiction.
FINAL ROUND, Bernhardt's 14th novel, shows no signs of writing rust and demonstrates that he is capable of bringing his craft to unusual yet familiar settings. Given that the release date of FINAL ROUND is only a couple of weeks before the 2002 Masters Tournament, there should be some definite cross-interest in both events.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 4, 2003