The Setup Man
Knowing that T.T. Monday’s debut mystery novel is titled THE SETUP MAN might conjure up thoughts for readers that the book is about a criminal with the special ability to frame someone for a crime or to make the necessary arrangements for a successful criminal enterprise. Neither description is correct. Instead, the term refers to an aspect of the modern baseball game, a relief pitcher who fills the gap between the starting pitcher and the closer.
Johnny Adcock is a setup man, and a very specific one at that. He is a left-handed pitcher whose job description entails coming into the game in the late innings to face a left-handed batter: “In an average week I spend approximately two hours throwing a baseball, including warm-ups.” Baseball wisdom says that left-handed batters have difficulty facing left-handed pitching. Left-handed pitchers are at a premium in baseball, and many continue to pitch well into their late 30s. At age 36, Adcock is still employed in the big leagues and earns well over one million dollars a year for facing the occasional left-handed batter. But even Adcock knows that the day will come when he no longer will be able to get even left-handed batters out. So he has begun to prepare for life after baseball by doing some occasional private investigating. It turns out that Major League baseball players who earn obscenely large salaries often find themselves in need of a discreet detective who has brains and ability to handle unique problems.
"[W]hat separates Monday’s detective from other moonlighting investigators are the wonderfully written baseball scenes."
After a game in which Adcock has failed in his setup role, teammate Frankie Herrera approaches him and confides that he is having a “problem with his wife.” The problem involves a sex tape she made before their marriage. Adcock promises Herrera that he will investigate the blackmail threat that has surfaced along with the tape. Driving home from the ballpark that evening, Herrera’s car careens off the road and the ballplayer is killed. What began for Adcock as a simple case of blackmail has now become a homicide. And even worse, the case explodes exponentially into a ring of murders, drugs, female slavery and Mexican gangs. Adcock is in a world far different and dangerous from the world of relief pitching.
As a mystery novel, THE SETUP MAN is nothing unique. Tough guys abound, and Adcock gets beaten up routinely as well as threatened with more bodily harm. In addition, Adcock, almost a James Bond in a baseball uniform, has the regular romantic liaisons. However, what separates Monday’s detective from other moonlighting investigators are the wonderfully written baseball scenes. The book provides readers with great insight into pitching and baseball strategy. You will find yourself in the bullpen, dugout and locker room along with Adcock and his teammates.
THE SETUP MAN has all the ingredients of a series. After all, many left-handed relief pitchers have pitched for 20 years, and Adcock has five or six years left in his arm. After that, who knows? He could continue his work in baseball as a pitching coach or manager. The mix of baseball and crime can be endearing and enjoyable for both readers and T.T. Monday.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on March 28, 2014