Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Pro #01 - The $3-Million Turn-Over

The term “agent” is utilized frequently when describing men's action adventure paperbacks from the 1970s. Normally it would be in the context of a crime sequence involving a Federal Agent or a globe-trotting espionage affair. So, it's incredibly rare to see a different kind of agent featured in an action-adventure novel. In 1974, author Richard Curtis introduced us to Dave Bolt, a SPORTS AGENT who solves crime. “The $3-Million Turn-Over” is the debut of a four-book series entitled 'The Pro'.

We learn about series star Bolt through a few dialogue sequences scattered throughout the book. He was born in Texas, excelled at collegiate sports, served a stint in the Army and then became a successful wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. Other than being very athletic, Curtis doesn't attempt to build any validity into Bolt being an action hero. First and foremost, The Pro is a mystery series with some action sprinkled in to lure prospective shoppers. After a horrific ankle injury ends his career, Bolt engages in a two-year swim in the bottle before rehabilitating and finding work in the Cowboys front office. This eventually leads to a sports agency deal that now finds Bolt representing a number of clients across all major sports. 

Bolt's office is in NYC, a rather busy place that's kept in order by sexy secretary Trish. As the novel opens, Bolt receives a call from the father of a top basketball recruit. IL star athlete Richie Sadler wants to discuss contracts with Bolt. It's this early portion of the book that really caters to basketball fans. In 1974, when this book was published, the NBA and ABA were two separate leagues. The two competed with each other for fans, TV rights and endorsement deals. Bolt, along with Richie's family, has an interesting discussion about the two possibly merging and teams like the Nets eventually becoming NBA properties. All of this is marvelous to read considering the merger actually came to fruition two years later.

While all this is insightful and engaging as a sports read, readers want crime. As a precursor to the heist, Bolt begins contract negotiations on behalf of Sadler. The asking price is a lofty three-million for two years (preposterous in 1974) but it's done for a reason. This price is important because soon the Sadlers receive a ransom call demanding three-million in cash or Richie dies. Afraid to risk the FBI's help (the first place I would have turned to personally), Bolt and Richie's sister Sondra tangle in the sheets and streets trying to locate Richie's whereabouts. The book has Bolt combing NYC, Harlem and the city's outskirts while the ABA commissioner puts together the needed funds. 

Author Richard Curtis would go on to write another sports novel, “The Sunday Alibi”, as Ray Lilly and – oddly - the movie novelization for John Carpenter's “Halloween” (as the clever Curtis Richards). After eight novels, Curtis would go on to become a mid-tier literary agent and retire from writing. It's interesting to see such a short literary career considering the guy could write. The Pro reads like Robert B. Parker's 'Spenser' in that it is loosely a PI novel with northeastern ties. Further, Bolt displays some of the same characteristics that make Spenser engaging – sports car, humor, drinking, sex. Arguably, those traits are found with most detectives in fiction, but I found incredible similarities. 

The remaining books focus on hockey, baseball and football – America's most popular sports. The books are all available in digital format but good luck finding those old 70s paperbacks on store shelves.