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Mike Lupica’s “Too Far”

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I grew up learning to read using the sports articles of the legendary Dick Young, in the Daily News, and the advice columns of Ann Landers.

I don’t know what that means, and I’m too chicken to ask a therapist, but there it is.

Dick Young is long gone, but one of my favorite reads each week, and the sole reason I lay out a buck each Sunday for the Sunday News, is Mike Lupica’s column. Lupica’s Sunday column reminds me of Young’s style, at least before bitterness and intolerance creeped in, and then took over, Dick’s column.

Lupica is funny, a bit irreverent and always entertaining.

Of course, what makes him more accessible is that he regularly appears on Don Imus, and comes off as less the smartass he tries to be, and more a generally good guy, a good friend to a troubled old cuss, and a decent family man.

I’ve tried watching ESPN’s equivalent of “Crossfire” on which he appears Sundays, but it is, like its prototype, simply unwatchable. Seriously. Your eyes will bleed and your ears will implode if you try to last beyond the first commercial break. I’ve tried it; it cost me a $200 emergency room deductible.

Lupica also writes books. I read ‘em, and I enjoy ‘em. I recommend them regularly to my sports-minded friends. Books like “Red Zone”, and “Wild Pitch” and “Jump”, all play off well-known sports motifs and characters. They are fun, and full of humor and caricatures of the people we watch and read about in sports. Like sports? Like to smile, chuckle, or even laugh out loud? Pick out any of Lupica’s first books.

But not “Too Far”. Here, Lupica takes a bit of a turn. Like Dick Francis always grounds his books to horse racing, Lupica continues to lash his writing to the mast he knows best, sports. But here he adds on mystery, and violence. He leaves the pure sports fiction/fact world, and enters new territory.

And he does it well. Very well.

“Too Far” is a murder mystery surrounding a high school basketball team, the Long Island town that’s gone basketball crazy, and the ugly specter of high school sports hazing. He introduces a lonely, semi-washed up sportswriter, who, as in all good murder mysteries, has sought refuge in what he thought was a quiet place, only to get sucked back in to action. Could Ben Mitchell become a recurring hero, a la Parker’s Spenser, or Craig’s J.W. Jackson? Absolutely.

The story is tight, it touches on just enough truth, as we know it from the sports pages, and unfortunately, the front pages, to draw you in, and it pulls you along, defying you not to start that next chapter, even though it’s getting late and you have to get going. Just one more page, you tell yourself.

That’s my mark of a good mystery. Does it make me late for what I’m supposed to be doing next? “Too Far” made me late.

The only quibbles I had all stem from the fact that Lupica is a white man from Connecticut. Which means some of the plot twists seem driven from his being conscious of his race; and some of the kids, and to a certain extent the women, seem to be more caricatures than full-blooded characters (though Lupica is hardly alone in this–most mysteries need to bang out the secondary characters, like a stone skimming over the water, bam! bam! bam! to keep the plot bursting forward). And which means he got some of Long Island wrong–actually the only annoyance being the constant references by his characters to going “up Island”, something no Long Islander has ever said. Sounds New Englandish to me, but is unknown amongst us natives.

Small points, actually. And though I would have noticed the “up Island” nonsense no matter who wrote the book, I think the other issues stem more from the fact that, having read, listened to and watched Lupica for about 20 years, it is hard for me to separate his voice from the book, which made me keenly aware that it was a middle-aged white man putting words in a 17 year old black kid’s mouth.

Quibbles aside, this is an excellent read. I don’t use a star system, so let’s just say it is a good mystery, on its own; it’s a good sports book, on its own; its vintage Lupica. If you enjoy any of these, add this to your list. If you enjoy more than one of those, then this is a must read.

About Tony Iovino

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Thanks for this post, Tony.

    As a Long Island native, sports fan, and writer, I’ve always loved Lupica and still think he’s just about the best sports writer in the country.

    I rejoiced when during the span that he wrote for Newsday (during the late 80s? Early 90s?) but now read him whenever I can online at the Daily News. A little taste of New York from out in Cali. His Sunday column — particularly his mini-rants on sports and other topics — is particularly choice.