Friday, March 2, 2012

The Code

Mike Hammer on skates? Why not? What better training ground for a PI than the NHL where "what we do to each other on the ice would be criminal in any jurisdiction... Even the cleanest body check would be an assault."

Thus Brad Shade, aka Shadow, a former player who had to hock his Stanley Cup ring after his career washed up and his marriage fell apart.

He worked as a snoop for a few years, doing divorce and insurance work before an old teammate offered him a job as a scout for the LA Kings.

The story begins with Brad checking out a hot young prospect playing for Peterborough in the O. The one-line evaluation he sends to the GM on his Blackberry:

I heard the kid fart and it sounded like a harp.

But a team needs more than that before committing big bucks to a potential franchise player. As Brad starts digging, a murder occurs and suddenly things don't look so rosy any more. The suspects are numerous, the draft is getting closer, and Brad's job is on the line.

Still, he hangs onto his sense of humour and cracks wise as he tries to sort it all out. A Zamboni driver is a "Guy Who Turns Right for a Living." Working out at a weight room, he tosses 225 "like a salad." He meets a guy whose "green eyes looked like two basil leaves in a big bowl of tomato soup," and a couple of plainclothesmen "who took the job title too literally."

The chapters are short, the dustjacket is clever, and there are appropriate hard-boiled observations about the game:

I never once did something impulsive on the ice. I picked my spots. And I had no loyalties, no friendships. I would do to an ex-teammate and a friend exactly what I'd do to a total stranger -- in fact, I might have even gone at it harder with guys I had run and drunk with, just because I feared that I might go soft and sentimental. Players and general managers and coaches used to say that I was "greasy," which I took as the highest compliment. If you look at the names engraved on the cup, you'll find a lot of greasy guys. Greasy guys are great to play with but brutal to play against. "Greasy" is whatever it takes with a lot of liberties and lubrication. I still think of myself that way. I couldn't be greasier if I jumped in a deep fryer and started doing the backstroke.

The author has written several non-fiction books about hockey, the most recent of which is The Devil and Bobby Hull.