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By Barbara Kay
In his debut novel, “Hildy’s Promise,” former sports journalist and current tennis coach Richard Finn married his lifelong love of mysteries and sports in a “page-turning” fashion.
Having grown up surrounded by mystery books such as The Hardy Boys series, Sherlock Holmes and Tom Clancy novels, Finn set out to write a thriller of his own. In what he described as a “pandemic project,” his debut novel tells the story of Hildy Swanson, “a socialite and community benefactor,” as Finn described, who is kidnapped in her home. Her second husband, a golf champion, returns to find a ransom note demanding a large amount of money, and 18 holes of golf.
“I wanted to do it in an entertaining and fast-paced process. This isn’t heavy duty literature, this is commercial fiction,” Finn said of “Hildy’s Promise,” which was released in December. “I want you to read it on the subway, or on the train coming in from Westchester. If you’re going away, pick it up at the airport. I would love that – if it was out in the paperback section in the airport.”
Finn grew up an athlete, competing in national tournaments in his youth and becoming the top tennis player at White Plains High School and Colgate University when he attended those schools. He became a sports journalist, writing for USA Today, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Associated Press in his career. Now, in his retirement, he coaches tennis at Briarcliff and Horace Greeley high schools and the Saw Mill Club in Mount Kisco. He’s also a member of the USOpen.com editorial staff.
And yet, there is no tennis in his novel. He described golf as his “newest passion,” and found the inspiration for the plot in Ian Fleming’s “Goldfinger.”
“There’s a golf scene between James Bond and the villain, Goldfinger, and a line at the end of the scene where Bond says, ‘Strict rules of golf, Mr. Goldfinger,’” Finn said. “That was my starting line, and my working title of the book. I really did write 18 holes of golf and we cut it down. I tried to find a different way to tell the story I was telling, and that one line, which I don’t use, and that scene is where I got that inspiration from.”
Finn became engrossed in golf after his childhood friend, David Schonberger, invited him to play with him and his wife. Schnonberger was surprised that this new hobby became the focus of his debut novel.
“My wife and I started to play and we invited Rich to come with us and I think he played – not seriously like tennis – as a kid,” Schnonberger said. “It became something we could do together. He [credits] me so he can compete with me. We both played tennis and ran marathons.
While writing “Hildy’s Promise,” Finn also started a mystery writers’ group at the Katonah Village Library for aspiring writers looking to publish a mystery book. The group met every Monday afternoon during the height of the pandemic and continues to get together as often as they can, now that their busy schedules have resumed.
“Richard runs a great meeting. We talked about each other’s work and it’s been a wonderful experience,” said Andrea Colby, a retired employee of Johnson & Johnson.
Colby began writing her novel 35 years ago while commuting from Manhattan to New Brunswick, N.J. And while she believes she would have found her way back to writing it, she said she didn’t think she would have finished it had it not been for Finn and the group.
“Not only have I made a bunch of new friends but they’ve been so encouraging. I know my book is better because of him and the group,” she said.
Finn also reached out to his former colleague and editor, Julie Ward, from USA Today to help “develop” the book further once he finished writing it.
“Richard was easy to work with. Especially since he took criticism well. He wanted to make the book better by the time I entered the picture; he had most of the book written,” Ward said. “He had the bones of the book, I just helped put the meat on parts of it.”
Finn’s love of mystery novels began with his father, who Finn said had an impressive collection of paperback books that he shared with Finn and his two brothers. Finn has now been able to share his love of sports with his own children, now adults, who both played for varsity teams and worked in marketing for companies such as Adidas and the NFL.
Finn is having a book signing and author discussion on Saturday, Feb. 24 from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Reading Room in Katonah.
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