Murder mysteries and golf have long been a literary twosome, and the genre’s newest entrant is Don Dahler, a former network news correspondent and now an anchor for WCBS-TV in New York City. His engaging debut novel, A Tight Lie (Minotaur Books, $24.95), introduces us to Huck Doyle — a fledgling PGA Tour pro who also happens to be an L.A.-area private detective. The story begins when Huck (short for Huckleberry) misses the cut at the Bob Hope Classic — fortuitously, as it turns out, because that gives him the weekend to come to the aid of a friend, Dodgers superstar Joniel Baker, who insists he’s been framed in the murder of his girlfriend, an aspiring actress.
The action, which moves as briskly as the beverage cart on a July day, careers from mansions to freeways to strip clubs. But there’s also plenty of time on the links. We get cameos from the likes of Phil Mickelson, John Daly, Mike Weir and Adam Scott. There’s a loyal, Bones Mackay-like caddie. Dahler records Huck’s precepts: “Tempo. Always the tempo. Without tempo, a golf swing is nothing but ugly violence. With tempo, it’s a controlled nuclear reaction; incredible power released from those tiny atoms on the face of the club and the innards of the ball.” (Huck’s favorite swing thought is less lofty, invoking as it does Pamela Anderson.) “Writing golf scenes, I discovered, is really a lot of fun, because through Huck, my main character, I can experience what it’s like to really play well,” Dahler, a 12-handicap, tells me in an e-mail. “He wants to carve a draw over the edge of a pond? Voila! Thwack a sand-save to within inches of the cup? Done! To be honest (and to be authentic) I couldn’t make Huck a super player. That wouldn’t be very interesting. Better that he has his struggles we can all relate to, and better to root for him and wonder if he really can finally put four days of great golf together in order to finally win something.”
One chapter chronicles a gripping match at Bel-Air between Huck and a sleazy sports agent named Pierce Fanagin. It’s realistic — as it turns out, remarkably so. “The scenes at Bel-Air were a challenge for me because I’ve actually never set foot on that course,” Dahler says. “I read some descriptions of play there, got a copy of the scorecard and distances, and found some golf aficionado websites on which players described their rounds, but the match between Huck and Fanagin truly did take place in the five inches between my ears.”
For his next Doyle mystery, Water Hazard, Dahler chose to report firsthand. “It’s so much easier describing a course I’ve actually walked on,” he says, “so I’ve visited, if not played, all the other golf courses featured in the books. Tough job, huh?”
No kidding — especially because Water Hazard is set at the Sony Open in Oahu. “I’ve found the best resource for how the pros on Tour live their lives, what their interests really are, and how they really talk to one another, is to hang out at the practice range during tournaments and follow a group around during the Pro-Am, when they’re a lot looser and chatty,” says Dahler. “I just got back from the Dubai Desert Classic, where the third book in the series is set, and was lucky to pick Rory McIlroy’s group to follow, and he ended up winning the whole thing.”
Some guys have all the Huck.