The House of Daniel

Written by Harry Turtledove
Review by Cecelia Holland

The South, 1934, the Depression. The world has collapsed; zombies have taken all the jobs (they don’t need to be paid); vampires tap on the windows asking for a bite; conjure men rig the baseball games. Jack Spivey, young and eager, needing to get away from a local evildoer in the hardscrabble of Enid, Oklahoma, signs on with a barnstorming baseball team, The House of Daniel, which sports long hair and bears and lions on their uniforms.

The team, men with names like Mudfoot and Fidgety Frank—and soon, “Snake” Spivey, our hero—travels from place to place—Enid, Ponca City, Lubbock, Marfa—playing the local teams on dusty fields for a split of the gate. Along the way, Snake encounters Carpetbag Booker, the greatest black pitcher ever, and a wild-hitting youngster called the splendid splinter, recognizes his calling, and finds his father and true love.

The best of the book is the baseball, observed by a true student of the game. The desperate leaping catches, the mind games between pitcher and batter, the special circumstances of each field and how to take advantage—all this brings back the mythic era of baseball, when we were all little kids, playing barefoot in the dirt.

There’s a lot of evil in this world; Turtledove doesn’t deal in fairy tales. But in the midst of the corruption and despair, baseball is order, is reason, is hope. And a passion. The vampires and werewolves and ghouls to one side (where they are, mostly), this is just pure fun.