23 March 2012

Calico Joe

Warren Tracey, an egotistical, aging, mediocre pitcher for the New York Mets toes the rubber as Joe Castle, the Chicago Cubs' record-smashing phenom rookie hitter digs in at the plate, having clobbered a ball over the wall at Shea Stadium in his previous at-bat. Warren's son, Paul, sits in the stands, watching as his father proceeds to deliver an intentional beanball to the head of Joe, ending a brilliant, albeit short, career in a split second. Thirty years later, whatever happened to Joe Castle and Warren Tracey?

John Grisham's latest novel, Calico Joe, tells the sometimes sad, but ultimately heartwarming story of that fateful moment in baseball lore and Paul Tracey's journey to reconnect the two men to bury the hatchet that killed their careers. 

I was sent a copy of Calico Joe to read and review on this blog (free of charge in exchange for my honest opinions), and being a huge fan of John Grisham's courtroom thrillers, I jumped at the chance to see his take on America's pastime, and my favorite hobby. He doesn't disappoint, with a combination of allusions to all the great players of the 1970's - Juan Marichal, Rick Monday, Don Sutton, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tom Seaver, Willie McCovey - and the great stories and stat lines of the all-time greats - Mays, Mantle, Cobb, Williams, DiMaggio - as I was quickly immersed in the story. Everyone with a passion for the game will immediately connect with Paul Tracey, the kid who collected all the Topps baseball cards, memorized his favorite players' statistics, kept scrapbooks with stories about the Great Ones, played Little League, and displayed a love for the game in its most pure form. 

Then came that game, and that pitch, and in an instant not only was Paul's love of the game ripped from him, but his father became the most hated man in baseball and alienated his already broken family. As a passionate fan of the game myself, I can only imagine the confusion and upset that little boy must have felt - even as a fictional character - having that one constant, solid passion torn from him in the milliseconds it takes to throw a ball 60 feet, six inches. It would certainly have crushed me. 

On the other hand, Paul's journey thirty years to the day later to reunite his father with Joe Castle and get him to apologize for hitting him and destroying not only his career, but his ability to live life is very much a reclamation of that youthful passion, and I got the sense that Grisham was trying to convey that a love for the game never truly dies. For Paul, I suspect it was just as much a chance to close a chapter in his own life that had never been resolved as it was to give his father a chance as some small measure of redemption for a life squandered.

For those big fans of John Grisham, Calico Joe is written in much the same tone and style as The Last Juror, which I absolutely loved as well. It's told as well as any Southern story could be, taking its time while capturing the imagination and making you hesitate to put it down, even in the wee hours of the morning. And at just under 200 pages (for my galley copy, anyway), it's easily a book that can be read and fully appreciated in just a couple of sittings. I would recommend Calico Joe to fans of John Grisham's novels (especially if you enjoyed Bleachers), fans of baseball who want to see another side of the game and its consequences, and to people who simply like to read heartwarming tales of love and forgiveness. 

Grisham wins again in my honest opinion. Calico Joe was an exceptional read, and one that will stay on my bookshelf for many years to come and be reread often.

Novel Info:
Calico Joe
by John Grisham (website)
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (release date April 10, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0385536070
ISBN-13: 978-0385536073

I was sent an advanced reading copy (ARC) of this book at no charge to me in exchange only for my honest review on this blog from Doubleday publishers. All opinions are my own. The photograph is my own, and is of the ARC; the published hardcover first edition may be different.


  1. gonna get the book when it comes out

  2. That was to much information for me. I feel like I just read the book. When I ask my Brother in Law what he has read lately that he enjoyed, he tells you the whole story.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Rosemary. I challenge you to read the book anyway and come up with your own conclusions about the story. You may find that while I did give a basic skeletal overview of the plot of the novel, reading the book gives so much more of the "meat" on those bare bones.

    My philosophy on telling people about a book I have read is not just to reiterate the back cover, but to draw their interest in the entirety of the story in the hopes that they read it and develop their own opinions.

  4. i cant wait to read this book.i luv grisham, he has some awsome books.