Halfway Home in "The Club From Hell":  A Reader's Guide
by John Branston

August 26, 2012

All right people, it's “The Club From Hell,” it's not supposed to be the novel from hell. But when Ted Gross threw together four Americans, four Englishmen, a Swede, and an Aussie with backgrounds as diverse as poetry, publishing, and forensic science and got them to collaborate on a novel, there was bound to be some confusion. And maybe a “stroke” or two, and a few “tins.”

Take heart, this isn't “Ulysses,” “Remembrance of Things Past, or even “The DaVinci Code.” It's only nine guys and a gal who love to spend their spare time chasing a squash ball entertaining themselves, each other, and hopefully you, reader, with a yarn that, at the midway point, has crossed the ocean and, perhaps, the bounds of credibility a few times.

Feel free to jump in now, next week, or the next week, trust us. Taking a cue from theater's Playbook, here's our cast of characters and a summary of the first ten chapters. Spoiler alert: It will be helpful to know a little about Carl Yastrzemski and weetabix. Google it, if necessary. Some of us did.

The Characters:

John Smith: Co-owner of the Vale squash “club from hell” in London. Call him a doofus, wreck, poofter, sad-sack, whatever, John has had some rough going to date, including an involuntary stay or two in a mental institution. Understandable, considering that he has lost his wife, Jill, to another man, and his children are an ocean away. Not to mention that the prospects of anyone named “John Smith” doing anything heroic in the adventure line are not good.

Jill Smith: Wife of the aforesaid. Sexy, short-tempered, and smart, currently splitting the sheets with her old flame.

Sam Smith and Jessica Smith: Teenage twins and children of John and Jill. Spoiled brats at times, but redeemable. Sam is away at a prep school in New England. Jessica is missing in action, for reasons not yet clear, with a rich dude, and she may be in peril.

Gerry: Vale squash club member, smart ass, and sometime-friend of John Smith. The kind of guy you hate to draw in the first round of a seniors tournament.

Nick Gaultier: Lawyer and adviser to the Smiths and a pretty fair squash player and ladies man.

Walter Selby: Victim of an unfortunate accident on the Vale squash court. Dead but not forgotten. Has a daughter named Kristin.

Nikki Ivanov: Close friend of Jessica Smith.

Alexi Ivanov: Older half-brother of Nikki. Rich kid with an attitude and a mean streak.

Steve Dwyer: Jill's new beau. Rich, talented, supremely confident, Ivy-League educated. Paid for Sam to go to Aullt prep school in New England. Buying the Vale squash club. English, but lots of business in USA.

Hack Thomas: Police chief in the town where Aullt is located.

Bianca Phipps: Fearless young reporter and freelance investigator who gets involved in the disappearance of Jessica Smith.

Angus Murray: British investigator hired by Jill Smith and Steve Dwyer to find Jessica.

Gamal: 50-something Egyptian squasher, resides in Cairo.

Jim Weston: Wealthy international executive with Global Trading, based in Dubai. Working undercover using the alias Jim Faulks.

Dan Thorpe: Sales director for Global Trading in Africa and the Middle East.

Victor Ivanov: Russian who lives on his yacht, last seen in U.S. Territorial waters.

Anatole Grigoriev: Russian bigshot in the opium trade.

Tatiana Grigorieva: Younger sister of Anatole, beautiful, rich, hangs out at sports clubs.

What's Happened:

A failing squash club leads to marital tension between John and Jill Smith. Matters get worse when their daughter Jessica disappears after a squash match with a suspicious character named Alexi. John crashes and burns on pain killers, drink, and eventually prescription drugs as Jill takes up with her old flame, Steve Dwyer. Several months later, Jessica apparently makes a short, mysterious phone call from New York to her twin brother Sam at his prep school in Massachusetts. The search is on for Jessica, while, half a world away, events are unfolding that may link her disappearance to an international drug plot involving a ruthless Russian “businessman.”

Squash, sex, and intrigue mix in a first-ever group novel from ten of the world's most avid amateur squashers and writers.

What the Critics are Saying:

“One of the most interesting group squash novels I have ever read.”
 - Dame Agathena Q. Christie

“Who are these people?”
 - The Times

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