Double Play, by Jen Estes: Sportswriter Cat McDaniel Takes On Illegal Sports Gambling

double_playGame’s on … all bets are off.

Double Play ($15.95, 318 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-941-1) is the third book in Jen Estes’ mystery series featuring female sportswriter Cat McDaniel. Cat has relocated to Buffalo, New York, where she gradually realizes that her wastrel half-brother has become entangled in a gambling operation involving the team she reports for.

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“The Soldiers are going into the playoffs. Brother Quinn quickly ingratiates himself with enough of the team to invite them to Cat’s place for poker (she and Benji are asleep), and one of their stars falls (or is pushed) off her balcony. He isn’t killed, but the rest of his season is shot. Fans blame Cat, and then she is forced to investigate. The deeper she goes, the worse it gets. Greedy ballplayers, owners, gamesters, all abound. Brother Quinn seems to be in the middle. What’s a girl to do? As usual, Cat’s pluck and intelligence switch into gear for a thoroughly entertaining whodunit.”

–Shelley Glodowski, MBR Bookwatch

“This is a cozy with lots of baseball and a reminder of Pete Rose’s problem.  If murder can leave you smiling, this one is for you.”

–Carolyn Lanier, I Love a Mystery

Double Play follows Curveball as Book 3 of the Cat McDaniel Mysteries, also known as the Foul Ball series. The series began with Big Leagues.

Team reporter Cat finally has her perfect lineup in Double Play. She’s reporting for the playoff-bound Buffalo Soldiers, she’s living large in a two-bedroom loft overlooking the Niagara River, and she’s sporting a diamond on her ring finger—nowhere as big as a baseball diamond, but big enough for her.

Just when Cat seems to be on top of her game, life throws her an off-speed pitch. A screwball clad in a leather jacket and biker boots—also known as her half-brother and full-leech, Quinn—shows up on her doorstep, or more accurately, her balcony. Her fiancé, Benji, although shocked to find out he has a future brother-in-law, welcomes the flighty Quinn, little knowing what havoc the man’s boozing and betting ways will wreak on their lives.

Soon after Quinn moves in, Cat’s team’s innings become his fat winnings. As the long shots turn into locks and hundreds turn into thousands, Cat’s curiosity steps up to the plate. Between the betting lines, she finds greedy gamesters, desperate ballplayers and an enterprising bookie looking to raise the stakes. Sometimes baseball isn’t just a game, it’s a matter of life or death.

Says Estes, “Gambling is the dirtiest word in baseball. Fans have overlooked performance enhancers, corked bats, juiced balls, illegal drugs, dogfights, cockfights and even a bizarre wife-swap back in the ’70s, but a professional athlete who wages on the game is shunned forever. As such, I couldn’t resist ‘taking a gamble’ on this unforgivable sports sin for my third book.”

Born and raised in Illinois, Jen Estes started her writing career as a baseball blogger in 2007 and expanded to freelance sports writing in 2009. She is an active member of the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR), Springfield Poets & Writers and the National Writers Union (NWU). When Jen isn’t writing, she enjoys running, yoga, traveling and watching baseball with her husband and cat. Click here to find Jen on the Web or go to her blog. Follow her on Twitter @jenestesdotcom.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

She didn’t know how long she’d been asleep when the scream tore through the dark bedroom and smacked her awake. Benji’s eyes snapped open, too. Simultaneously, they threw the comforter off and shot out to the hallway, hurrying into the living room. The remnants of the poker night were still visible, cards and beer bottles scattered over the table. The chairs were empty and her eyes darted to the balcony. The sliding glass door was wide open and a cold breeze blew through the room. The players all gathered near the edge.

“Quinn?”

Cat sprinted to the balcony. She breathed a momentary sigh of relief when she saw her brother in the corner, disguised by Benji’s spiraled boxwood topiary.

The telephone rang.

“That’s got to be Finley again,” Benji said, turning around to answer it.

Cat hopped out to the balcony, planting her feet on the coarse entry rug. It was still cold, but beat the bitter chill of the concrete. “What’s going on?”

Joel turned around and shoved past her, running into the kitchen. She heard him wretch and hoped he had made it to the sink.

Quinn, Damien Staats and Adam Alvarez were all peering over the balcony. Cat was filled with dread as she approached the ledge. “Guys?”

Where’s everybody else at?

Slowly, she began to recall the guests from earlier.

Quinn’s here.

So’s Damien Staats.

So’s Adam Alvarez.

Joel Faulk’s in the kitchen.

Her stomach dropped.

“Oh my God, where’s Spencer?”

No one answered her. She cringed as she finally made it to the edge and followed their gazes to the ground.

Damien bounced on his heels and repeatedly shook his head. “Shit man, shit.”

A twisted body lay on the grass two stories down. It wasn’t Spencer. Her friend was short and this figure spanned two sidewalk lengths. She recognized his shaggy, dirty blond hair immediately.

Ryan Brokaw.

Now she remembered him from earlier. The pitcher had sat on the loveseat, next to Adam. He’d made the “your mama” joke.

“Oh my God! Ryan? Ryan!”

He didn’t move.

Benji rushed to the balcony and looked over her shoulder. He gasped.

She pulled her hands away from her mouth. “We have to call nine-one-one.”

Benji nodded and ran to the phone.

She whirled around to the guys. “What the hell happened?”

Damien’s hands flew in the air defensively. “He … he ….”

Adam placed his hand on Damien’s shoulder. “He fell.”

“Fell? Quinn?”

Quinn nodded. “We were just having a smoke out here, shooting the shit and goofing around. Ryan leaned back and just … fell.”

Cat surveyed the railing. It was a concrete ledge but she pushed against it just to make sure it was sturdy. It was solid. “I don’t understand.”

Quinn shook his head. “Me, either. It happened so fast. He was leaning like this.” Quinn demonstrated by resting his hips on the edge. “He lost his footing and just tumbled back.”

Cat leaned over the side. “Ryan, can you hear me?”

His body still didn’t move. She pushed past Adam and ran out of the apartment. Her hand glided down the railing as she shot down the three flights of stairs. She sprinted across the grass. The blades felt like porcupine quills under her bare feet and the ground was cold and wet with frost. She reached his body and looked up at her lighted balcony. Quinn and the players were no longer there but she could see Benji pacing back and forth in the living room, the cordless phone pressed against his ear. She tore her eyes back to Ryan’s contorted body.

“Ryan?”

His arm was twisted behind his body like a cruller and his shoulder popped out like an extra glob of icing. “Ryan, it’s Cat McDaniel.”

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