This one is more of a novella than a proper book. Maybe even a short story. It’s not much more than 100 pages. But as far as I can tell, it was published as a standalone, not a collection. King loves baseball, we know that. He loves weird shit and fear/horror/terror, we know that too. Those things don’t usually come together quite this way — his characters may play baseball, especially the kids. They may even obsess about a baseball player (The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon comes to mind. So does Needful Things’ Brian Rusk.) But this is the first instance I can think of where the horror happens within the baseball team.
I hadn’t read Blockade Billy before this — it was one of my rare first-timers. Because… well, for the same reason I’d never read Faithful before. I’m bored by baseball. But King being King, and this being fiction instead of non-fiction, Blockade Billy managed to catch my interest.
Even casual readers will be aware that King likes to reference himself and his books in his work, and serious readers, even those who aren’t Dark Tower junkies, are often aware that King took the big leap of writing himself into the Dark Tower series as a character. What I wasn’t aware of was that he did it again here. Sort of. King is a character in this book. It’s told from the point of view of a fictional former baseball coach, now in a nursing home. He’s telling a story to a visitor, and the visitor is Stephen King. Now, the story he’s telling is the story of the book, and I think we only know he’s speaking to King because he addresses him — I’m fairly certain King’s character does and says nothing in this book. But he is there. So King is entirely a King character now, even outside of the Dark Tower (though still in the larger King multi-verse.)
Anyway, the story is of a team that has to call in a player from the minors because they’re short. The player — Billy, as far as they, or we, know — arrives, and turns out he’s good. A little slow and a little weird, but good. Only… we know that’s not going to last, right? We get a clue right up front that Billy is doing something untoward in order to win. It’s not a huge deal, but it does kind of telegraph that our new team member 1) has a violent streak and 2) might be up to something no good. But what we don’t see coming until the end is that Billy… is not Billy. The actual Billy is dead. And this guy is responsible. He also ruins the team’s whole season, which seems to be about equally weighted with the whole murder thing.
I admit I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting something, just not that. It’s fun, especially for a baseball story. It’s also short and not that complicated, so it’s a really quick read. This is the book you want to choose if you just want to kill an afternoon and not invest any more heavily than that.