Book Review: The Professor by Robert Bailey

The cover of this book features a set of American football posts and a silhouette of legendary University of Alabama coach, Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant. Therefore anyone picking up this book may be inclined to believe that The Professor is a novel centred very much on the sport of American Football. However, this isn’t the case and author, Robert Bailey, explains in notes at the end of the book what the football connection relates to:

“In drawing the character of Tom McMurtrie, my aim was to create a legendary figure. A man of exceptional integrity, strength and class. One of the ways I sought to achieve this purpose was to include Tom on Alabama’s famed 1961 football team…this team formed the bedrock of Coach Paul ‘Bear, Bryant’s Alabama football dynasty”.

So in essence the spirit of that famous 61’ side pervades the book through the central character Tom McMurtrie, rather than being a plotline.

Whilst The Professor might not be a sports themed novel, what the reader is treated to is a great legal/crime thriller. Bailey varies his chapter sizes as the action shifts between the characters and various locations, to slow down and speed up the pace of the book. It certainly grabs the attention and like all the best books, keeps you hooked into reading page after page.

Without giving too much away, the plot centres on Tom McMurtrie a law professor at the University of Alabama who is forced into retirement. Tom is then asked to take on a case of an old friend, whose family was killed in a road accident. McMurtrie though refers the case to a former student Rick Drake. The dramatic conclusion focus on the trial and the twists and turns as a verdict is finally reached.

Overall The Professor has a dramatic style and storyline that would lend itself very well to a film or television adaptation. This book is well worth a read and many will be looking forward to the next novel featuring Tom McMurtrie and Rick Drake already.


Book Review: A Fan’s Folklore – Six Seasons of Triumph, Tragedy and Tough Luck by Dean T. Hartwell

Sport is often held up as a metaphor for life; no matter what the sport, the country that it is played in or whether you experience it as a participant or spectator. Dean T. Hartwell takes his early years watching his beloved Oakland Raiders in the National Football League (NFL) and Los Angeles Dodgers of the Major League Baseball (MLB) to illustrate how they taught him lessons in ways he “…could not have otherwise understood…”

Hartwell focuses on a six year period, from 1972 to 1978 and in particular nine games, as the basis of this book. These include NFL games between the Raiders and their great rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos and MLB fixtures featuring the Dodgers against Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees. They are then grouped into three categories, Triumph, Tragedy and Tough Luck, to illustrate the points the author wishes to imparts to the reader about the lessons he has learned from those games, in relation to ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ aspects of life.

Some of the games are infamous such as that remembered for the ‘Holy Rollers’ play involving Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers (1978) and another that is known for the ‘Immaculate Reception’ between Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers (1972). Hartwell looks at these incidents (and others in the nine games in the book) in detail to ascertain or offer a hypothesis as to what took place. For the most part this provides interesting reading, although I was not convinced as to the real benefit of the authors re-run of the 1975 AFC Championship game between Oakland and Pittsburgh based on Raiders home advantage and therefore less inclement weather.

This book is obviously a cathartic work for the author and Hartwell should be praised for his bravery in expressing such personal and sometimes painful episodes from his life. It is part sport, part self-help and a book that will spark debate.