In honor of the NCAA tournament, I'm posting this FFB basketball-themed "classic."
In 2006, Otto Penzler released the anthology Murder at the Foul Line, with stories contributed by a Who's Who of crime fiction: Lawrence Block, Jeffery Deaver, Sue DeNymme, Brendan DuBois, Parnell Hall, Laurie R. King, Mike Lupica, Michael Malone, Joan H. Parker and Robert B. Parker, George Pelecanos, R. D. Rosen, S. J. Rozan, Justin Scott and Stephen Solomita.
Michael Malone's winningly deadpan "White Trash Noir," about domestic violence from a former NCAA star that seemingly drives his wife to murder, was nominated for the 2007 Edgar Award for best short story, but had to be withdrawn because it had been previously published in a collection by the author. There are other winners, though: Lawrence Block's hitman character Keller takes in a Pacers game in "Keller's Double Dribble," but the assignment doesn't go as planned and we get glimpses into Keller's past; "String Music" by George Pelecanos focuses on a streetwise D.C. kid trying to escape his troubled life by playing pickup basketball; Laurie R. King's "Cat's Paw" features the coach of a girl's junior high basketball team who is haunted by repressed memories and whose life is shaken up after she runs over a cat; and Jeffery Deaver's "Nothing But Net" is filled with Deaver's trademark twists and turns, featuring con men trying to swindle a naive NBA player.
Penzler would probably argue there's plenty more fodder for murderous takes on professional basketball. As he notes in his Introduction, "Perhaps the biggest difference in the game is the level of criminal activity. One of the big crime stories of the 1950s was when some Manhattan College, CCNY, and Long Island University players conspired to fix games so that certain gamblers could make a killing. The scandal rocked the sport for years, and those teams, then national powers, never recovered. Today, of course, that would be looked upon as kid stuff. Now we're really talking. Stars are commonly arrested for drug abuse, drunk driving, wife (and girlfriend) battering, barroom brawling, rape, and so many other acts of violence and criminality that it is difficult to keep track."
Murder at the Foul Line is the fifth installment in Penzler's sports mystery anthology series, so if you're not a fan of basketball, instead try Murderer's Row (baseball), Murder on the Ropes (boxing), Murder is My Racquet (tennis) and Sudden Death (football). I should point out that these books were published by the defunct New Millennium publishing arm, and that Penzler successfully sued the company claiming breach of contract. It's an unfortunate conclusion to what was originally an intriguing collaboration, but that doesn't change the fact the stories still stand on their own, with many sparkling three-pointers among them.