Of the number of sports and activities out there to write about perhaps darts would not be my first choice. Even after years of trying to shrug off the image of fat men drinking pints it still has to be said that even though the ocky is tee total the men are still by and large not the fittest. I am partial to watching a bit of darts on the Beeb when the major titles are on offer, but reading about it? I can't imagine that there is much tension to be had describing yet another dart glancing off a rim. It was Frank Baldwin's decision to base 'Balling the Jack' around a darts game. I wonder if he has the talent to pull it off?
Tom Reasons is a gambler at heart, without the buzz of the bet he seems almost empty. Living fast is what Tom does best so each week he bets his entire pay cheque on a baseball game, he either succeeds and lives rich, or fails and goes without. The only other passion in Tom's life is his darts team that he is on with his best friends since University. One day his two passions collide when a rival team offers him a bet he is too drunk to turn down - $40000 on a winner takes all match. Can Tom get the money together on time to make the bet, and if he does can he get his team to win the match? With everything running on the one game Tom is about to meet a turning point in his life, the only questions is which direction is it going - up or down?
Although I suggested at the start of my review that this book is based around darts I was lying a little. Yes, the central premise is about a darts game, but the story is more about the bet and how it affects Tom's life. Therefore, the book is a fortnight in the life of one man. It is vital that the character is likable if we are not only to put up with him for a book, but also root for him during the finale - it's a shame then that I hated Tom Reasons.
I feel that Baldwin has undermined what was a decent story by thinking his main character is cool. Tom walks with a swagger and his internal monologues are constantly informing us about his sensibilities and opinions on different matters. Unfortunately, these opinions are often chauvinistic and a little creepy. I can relate a little to a chancer who gambles on occasion and I don't even mind that Tom drinks a lot. I have a problem with his attitude. Personally, I believe that Tom's attitude probably reflect that of author Baldwin as he projects himself into the role. I can therefore only assume that Baldwin dislikes or fears women. 'Balling' is full of women who are either weak, spiteful or slags. Even the more positive roles are eye candy for Tom and friends.
Baldwin seems to have an issue with 'society's norms'. Tom wants to live life on the edge and fair play to him. Just don't slag off everyone else for choosing not too. If you are not drunk, STD ridden and bolshie you are weak according to Baldwin. One character meets a girl young and marries. He then spends the rest of the book complaining about the copious amounts of sex he has (like it's a bad thing). Baldwin is anti settling down and it comes across clearly here and a little nastily. Tom goes so far as to dump the love of his life just so that he can play the field for a year or so - what a pleasant man....
The entire book rests on us wanting Tom to succeed and as you may have guessed this was not my preferred option. He chances his way through the book making swift judgement over others and comes out smelling of roses. It is a real shame that the characters in this book are so weak as the central story is a good one. I liked the contemporary setting and the idea of betting it all on one roll of the dice (on in this case throw of the dart) does lead to tension. The entire book is riddled with a dark undercurrent that I did not appreciate, it was a dated 80s attitude of wealth and entitlement, mixed together with a strange attitude towards women. Obviously this a book written for men, but I still did not relate to it. Perhaps Frank Baldwin's publishers also felt the same as me as although this published in 1997 Baldwin has yet to write another book.....
Author: Frank Baldwin
Price: amazon uk - £0.01 (2nd hand)
Betting all you have cleans the system, says young Wall Street paralegal Tom Reasons as he hands over $400 of his weekly $447 paycheck to his bookie, Toadie, in bets on baseball games. But it's the low-profile sport of darts that gets Tom into real trouble, in this raucous, raunchy thriller. When he loses $40,000 on the toss of a feathered sliver of steel, Tom has to outsmart Mafia loan sharks to stay in one piece. Along the way, Frank Baldwin manages to tap into the energy of ambitious, amoral, and frighteningly fascinating 20-somethings.