Isaacs, an English professor at the University of Maryland, overburdens an intriguing conceit in this fictionalized biography of sports figure Jack Molinas, who was at the center of New York City's college basketball scandals in the early 1960s. Isaacs depicts Molinas as bright and attractive, a talented player who could have pursued a successful career and a comfortable existence but who was inexorably drawn to the dark side. Isaacs tries to give deeper meaning to the life of this legendary con man by placing it in counterpoint with the story of his own alter ego, a Molinas biographer and English professor whom he calls Jesse Miller. His account of his surrogate's life, more described than dramatized, undercuts what could have been a tight and powerful study of amorality. Awkward exposition and unlikely diction further diminish the novel's immediacy. The Jack Molinas story in itself has all the elements of an engrossing novel; Isaacs would have done well to stick to it. (Nov.)
Isaacs (English, Univ. of Maryland) has published several nonfiction sports titles in addition to scholarly work. His first novel is based on the life of Jack Molinas (1931-75), basketball great, lawyer, gambler, and ex-con. College English teacher Jesse Miller has worshiped the larger-than-life Molinas for years. After Molinas is murdered, Miller sets out to write a biography and come to terms with his own fascination. This novel is competently written and moves swiftly through Molinas's life story, a cautionary tale of great talent gone completely sour. Buy wherever sports fiction is popular.-- A.J. Wright, Univ. of Alabama, Birmingham
This is a readable, entertaining, and quite disturbing fictional biography of legendary gambler and sports fixer Jack Molinas. A star basketball player at Columbia in the early 1950s, Molinas was implicated in point-shaving scandals and later graduated from law school, was disbarred, landed in prison, and was eventually murdered. Throughout it all, there was gambling, always gambling. Any basketball fan familiar with the history of the gambling scandals that racked college hoops more than 40 years ago knows that the basic facts in this book are true; beyond that, though, it's difficult to say where the facts stop and the fiction begins--even within the frame story, narrated by writer Jesse Miller, who exorcises his own demons as he reconstructs Molinas' life. The publisher says the book is "fact-based," yet the author's disclaimer reads, "Any resemblance to actual events is . . . coincidental." Does Isaacs mix fact and fiction the way Frederick Exley did in "A Fan's Notes", or does he invent new lives for historical figures the way mystery authors make sleuths of Charles Dickens or Ben Franklin? Either way, the novel succeeds in re-creating one of sports history's seediest eras and evoking its most representative antihero. Fact or fiction, it has the bite of Eugene Izzi or Elmore Leonard.