Baseball Books Reviewed: Go Go Gato

Go Go Gato by Max Everhart. (Camel Press, Seattle, WA, 269 pp., $14.95). PB, 2014.

Sometimes all we really want is some comfort food. Familiar and tasty, even when prepared by following the recipe to a T, but in the hands of a talented, inventive chef, a good meal can be elevated to fine cuisine.

And when it comes to mystery fiction, the dishes are meant to be served up just as you’d expect, with the different genres like a cozy or police procedural or caper just as distinct as shepherd’s pie is from pumpkin pie.

So when Max Everhart’s novel Go Go Gato is described as a classic neo-noir detective tale, it’s definitely meant as a compliment, and when his main character, former minor league phenom turned private investigator Eli Sharpe, easily slides into the traditional smart-witted, sarcastic, borderline alcoholic charmer mold, it’s like sinking your teeth into the perfect chicken fried steak.

Of course, when baseball and a mystery are paired, the baseball had better be as authentic as the conversation, and the mystery as involving as the characters and setting, and Everhart delivers. Gato refers to Almario Gato, a million dollar Cuban defector who was a rising star in the Colorado Rockies minor league system until he arrives in Sharpe’s Asheville, NC town as a member of the Tourists. His numbers have taken a sharp nosedive, and now Gato is missing, leading his slick and beautiful LA-based agent, Veronica Craven, to hire Sharpe to quickly and discreetly locate her prized client.

The author’s choice to steer clear of the diamond itself and to instead explore the pressure-packed world of the minor leagues away from the clubhouse proves wise, as we watch Sharpe quickly reveal a sordid story of groupies, druggies, and a major league front office more interested in their investment and public relations than in helping a player in trouble. Everhart takes us on a descriptive tour of the University of North Carolina – Asheville campus from both a co-ed and professor’s viewpoint, as well as the seedy downtown drug scene, with just the right mix of realistic dialogue, self-recriminating introspection, and straightforward sleuthing as Sharpe races against time to find the young troubled ballplayer before his promising future slips away.

There’s a tasty dollop of vicarious travelogue for the area, and the connection between two baseball careers gone astray is infused throughout the book with just the right touch of regret and potential redemption. As a result, Sharpe becomes, like every good literary PI, an engaging, magnetic, flawed, multi-faceted, and most importantly, interesting character who’s more than meaty and likeable enough to carry the narrative. And without any hint of spoilage, the story itself wraps up with a satisfying denouement.

Go Go Gato is a solid, realistic, and thoroughly baseball-based mystery with an entertaining and believable main character in Eli Sharpe, and Everhart’s appealing writing style enhances this book to an eminently enjoyable, winning level.

And once you find a good restaurant, it’s fun to go back and see what the cook’s next special is all about. Coming in 2015 is the second installment in the Eli Sharpe series from Camel Press, Split to Splinters, about a baseball Hall of Famer, his dysfunctional family, and a missing 300th win baseball. Make your reservations now!

Reviewed By: Mark Schraf (December 31, 2014)