Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Finish Line, the game of golf and life

Title: Finish Line
Author: James Ross
ISBN: Hard Cover 978-1-4363-3327-6/Soft Cover 978-1-4363-3326-9
Publisher: Xlibris
Genre and Target Market: Fiction; male relationships; sports
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 289
Reviewer: Barbara Milbourn

Author James Ross is on his game, weaving his sports theme into a highly entertaining and satisfying second novel called Finish Line. He returns J-Dub Schroeder to his beloved Prairie Winds Golf Course in East St. Louis after a near ten-year absence during which he battled his unscrupulous business partner/chiseler, Lewferd Zerrmann, for what was rightfully his.

Julie and all the old regulars from the first novel, Lifetime Loser, are there to welcome him home. J-Dub’s brother, Curt, has come on board. Because of his chance meeting across a craps table more than a decade ago with the fiery Tina Ventimiglia, he introduces two new characters in the summer of 2007, during which the book takes place except for the author deftly reaching back in time for stories that provide necessary footing for the present.

We meet them in the beginning—two early teens, Justin Ventimiglia and Keith Puccio, fresh out of school and into a bit of mischief. Now they’ve got a debt to repay and lessons to learn. Curt gives them an opportunity at Prairie Winds for just that, but when the workday is over, it’s time for the game of golf; and that, true to the author’s style, has plenty to teach about the game of life.

Ross understands the importance of a villain and tension and delivers it, not in the two-legged form this time, but as an illness—possibly a life-threatening illness; one that has crept in stealthily and has to be dealt with. Its thread and threat winds and twists around the protagonist until the very end, or as James Ross would say, the finish line.

Don’t think for one moment though that you’ll be bogged down or blanketed in depression about the trials of a sick guy—far from it. This book is packed with action, stories, plot, humor, interest, and surprises. Ross clips along at his usual good pace; not one that leaves you frantic and hyperventilating on the edge of your seat, but one that richly entertains and rewards you in its fast current.

The protagonist has his finger on today’s pulse and calls it as he sees it: from how the hospital experience and medical profession has evolved, to less-than-perfect politics, to cheaters at the game, to the gaming industry. Ross provides interesting and unexpected insight into many avenues that have bearing on his story.

I savored how intimately acquainted and comfortable I became with Prairie Winds. I personally like knowing where the cart barn is and a whole lot about what (and who) is in it. I can tell you distinguishing features of several holes on the course, how to cut holes and move pins on the green, and what it feels like to walk through the front door of the clubhouse. I can tell you where the shower is, show you the imprint of Fred’s behind on the back booth, pour you a cup of coffee, or stock your cooler for the front nine. While I like all the detailed imagery that crept in when I wasn’t looking, I am crazy about the characters.

Ross is a man’s man. His characters are predominantly male and they have grown in number. They’ve got names like Pork Chop, Lug Nut, Bowtye, Captain Jer, and Paco. They play golf, play cards, gamble, work the night shift, fly planes, treat animals, and they like pretty women. Even though their histories and habits run the gambit with sometimes shocking consequences, they’re there for each other for life. They are friends, brothers, competitors, mentors, and the man next door. His female characters have presence and importance. They are socially conscious, sharp, quirky and fun.

Ross is a storyteller—a talented one. His characters come from everywhere around the world, and dialogue rolls off his tongue. His stories come full circle—back to heart, happiness, family, and all-out goodness.


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