Alan Saxon is one of the more unlikely sleuths in contemporary fiction. A veteran professional golfer, Saxon is attempting to win his second British Open and to discover the identity of a murderer who stalks him through the tournament. Therein lies the fun and intrigue of Bullet Hole (Harper & Row, $14.95), a deft English mystery by Keith Miles.
It's difficult to resist a novel that begins, "Carnoustie headed north toward St. Andrews." Carnoustie is Saxon's motor home and, since his divorce, the object of his affections. He named it after the course on which he won the British Open 14 years earlier. Saxon is still lionized in Britain, although his career has so declined that he needed a rule change to qualify for this Open. However, he arrives at St. Andrews as one of the favorites, because he has been on something of a streak. But someone decides he shouldn't win.
Two nights before the first round, Saxon is knocked unconscious as he enters Carnoustie. When he comes to, a hitchhiking groupie whom he had driven to St. Andrews is in bed with him, strangled. Saxon says, "I had been framed like a golfing print."
Once the Open begins, the list of suspects eerily echoes the list of players on the leader board, although Saxon is cleared in the early going. The author spins an international web of plausible suspects, who include Ulrich Heidensohn, the West German champion and playboy; Brad Devereaux, the wily South African veteran; and a Brit here and an Aussie there. As Saxon defies the threats on his life by playing well, he stonewalls the slow-witted constables of St. Andrews and continues his own search for the killer, putting no one above suspicion, not even the secretary of the Royal and Ancient.
Miles's prose will ring true to golf fans; he knows the Road Hole from Swilcan Burn. Miles also intertwines the plot with some little-known history of work done by World War II German prisoners of war to restore the neglected Old Course to its golfing state. The murderer is a surprise, but a disappointment; Miles more adeptly developed the motives and personalities of the other suspects. Nevertheless, Bullet Hole, the first in a series, breaks par.
Ivan Maisel covers golf and college football for "The Orlando Sentinel."