Kansas native Fletcher Flora (1914-1969) wrote 13 novels and 150 short stories after returning from WW2 combat. His writing generally falls into the crime fiction genre with a few diversions into the world of lesbian pulp fiction. “The Hot-Shot” is a coming-of-age paperback published by Avon in 1956. The short novel is now available in every format as a cheap eBook.
“The Hot-Shot” is narrated by Skimmer Scaggs, a dimwitted high school senior living on the wrong side of the tracks with his dysfunctional parents. One day he accidentally learns that he has a natural gift for sinking baskets on the court, and with a little coaching quickly becomes a high school basketball prodigy. The author was a high school basketball coach before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, so he knows his way around the game. As a result, the sports action scenes are vividly recounted.
For Skimmer, instant popularity and local celebrity follow his awakening as a basketball star. The school pads his grades, and he’s finally able to lay a girl in the country club set. Moreover, a dead-end future is no longer his destiny as basketball provides the ticket to get out of his lousy town and away from his crummy parents.
For most of the paperback, the coming of age narrative far overshadows the crime story revealed fairly late in the novel. The crime in question involve the dilemma of whether to shave points for a local racketeer in exchange for some steady cash and regular sex with an irresistible torch singer. The point-shaving scheme was probably innovative at the time before Northwestern University’s football team was caught by the FBI doing almost the exact same thing decades later. “The Hot-Shot” is a fun read but shouldn’t be confused with a crime fiction classic.
The writing style adopted for Skimmer’s narration almost perfectly apes that of Holden Caulfield from 1951’s “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger. Lawrence Block did the same thing years later with his Chip Harrison series with pleasing results. If you enjoy that type of first-person writing (and I do), you’ll probably enjoy this novel quite a bit (and I did). Just don’t go into it expecting a tightly-plotted hardboiled crime story. Recommended.
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