Tis the season — to play football! In Hangman’s Game, Bill Syken, a writer and editor for Sports Illustrated, has written a highly entertaining murder mystery set in the wacky, power-mad world of professional football. Like Mike Lupica’s warm and witty sports novels, Syken successfully uses professional football as the premise for a very good story. Nick Gallow is a veteran punter and a horrified observer when a prized recruit for his Philadelphia NFL team is gunned down late one night. Nick is a thoughtful guy and, since he is “only” a punter, he has a lot of time to try to unravel what happened. In Nick Gallow, Syken has created an interesting and sympathetic amateur sleuth. Of course Nick himself has an interesting backstory and a complicated personal life. All of this suggests that this won’t be the last Nick Gallow book. I certainly hope that there will be more to come.
As it happens, this is Syken’s first book, and it embraces the sweaty, crazy world of professional football with understandable cynicism and a great deal of affection. There are colorful players, psychotic coaches, spoiled owners, sleazy agents and all the folks who hang around with them. Power, insecurity and personal vanity pretty much rule the day, as Nick sorts through a colorful list of suspects. While the plot of Hangman’s Game is interesting and fast-paced, the best part of this book is the larger-than-life cast of football characters and the author’s understanding of what makes them tick.
I highly recommend this book to everyone, including folks who don’t like football. For better or worse, professional football has become a cultural reference, and Hangman’s Game has a lot to offer to fans and non-fans alike. This is a very good read.