MLB.com Columnist

Paul Hagen

'A Deadly Game' a humorous, riveting thriller

In 1949, Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus was shot and gravely wounded by an obsessed fan. In 1978, Angels outfielder Lyman Bostock was murdered shortly after a game at Comiskey Park. Yankees catcher Thurman Munson perished in a 1979 plane crash. Indians teammates Tim Crews and Steve Olin were killed in a boating accident in 1993; Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was lost in a similar accident last year. Budding Cardinals star Oscar Taveras perished in a car accident in 2014.

We are sadly reminded from time to time that Major League Baseball is not immune from tragedy.

But what if a series of seemingly random incidents -- some fatal, some disabling, all impactful -- occurred in the same season? And what if, upon further examination, they weren't random accidents at all?

That premise forms the basis for "A Deadly Game", a fast-paced novel that explores not only baseball but the Vietnam War, organized crime and fantasy sports leagues.

Author Gary M. Lepper is a trial lawyer who lives in Walnut Creek, Calif. His knowledge of how the legal system works is evident throughout, and his familiarity of the area allow him to insert realistic geographic details. And he's an avid fantasy baseball owner. All that adds to the veritas of the scenes.

The hero of the story is a Vietnam veteran named David Kenmuir (named after Lepper's grandfather, to whom the book is dedicated), a former police detective turned lawyer whose military training comes in handy more than once.

Along the way he comes across team executives who seek his help, law enforcement figures whose support he needs, plus high-level mob bosses and other assorted lowlifes. He deals with players, a titan of industry and computer wizards and inescapable memories from his past.

The story begins with a shadowy figure based in Denver -- consumed by delusions of grandeur -- and ends with a nice plot twist. The intricately woven plot in between contains just the right amount of aha moments for the reader, slowly revealing connections and motivations, all leading up to the surprise ending.

This is also a work about relationships. They may be hidden, from long ago, sibling, transactional, double-crossing or ultimately surprising but they provide a strong web that both moves the action forward and ties it together. Spoiler alert: One of these associations is pivotal to resolving the tale on such a satisfying note.

Kenmuir emerges as the archetype of a leading man. A Lone Ranger type. Fearless in pursuit of the truth, even when it puts him in personal danger. Dogged in the face of skepticism and relentless -- despite suggestions (from allies) and warnings (from enemies) that it would be best if he backed off. Dedicated to the letter of the law, but hard-eyed enough to understand that there are occasions when straying outside the lines can at least be rationalized.

There are scores of baseball books printed each year. Most are non-fiction, which is understandable. "A Deadly Game" is something fresh and different, a page-turning baseball mystery.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.