I think the worst thing about becoming a baseball fan for me is getting infested by the magical thinking associated with the sport. This intricately-plotted, noirish crime novel features Babe Ruth (as a Yankee, in the 1925 offseason) and I found myself vaguely worried that reading it was somehow disloyal to my team.
But there’s nothing fannish about 7,000 Clams. Ruth is portrayed as a man ruled by his appetites — for food, women, and amusement. He’s a bit of a stinker, frankly, even if he’s not totally charmless. His massive presence — literally and figuratively — forms the gravitational core around which the other characters orbit.
Irby is a history professor, and 7,000 Clams is spiced with enough historical detail that one can learn a bit from the book, but not nearly enough to detract from its substantial entertainment value. Irby skillfully blends a handful of historical figures with invented characters. His people are vivid and multi-dimensional, particularly the brutish yet lovable thug/grifter Frank Hearn, and the two strikingly different dames he gets entangled with in his pursuit of the titular 7,000 Clams. Irby also concocts a remarkably unpleasant but chillingly believable bogeyman (as well as giving a cameo to a real-life nasty). The dialogue is filled with the requisite snaps and wisecracks, and Irby’s descriptions are clear and vivid. The handful of awkward sentences are certainly forgivable in a debut novel.
My one gripe is that Irby’s plot leans awfully hard on coincidence. His St. Petersburg seems like such a small place that there would be no way for people with connections to avoid running into one another. But if the twists strained my credibility, they didn’t much reduce my enjoyment. There’s a sequel, The Up and Up, and I’m eager to read that, too.
needs more demons? nope