The Batmaker of Copenhagen

Published: 2024
Pages: 256
Author: Brooks, Tim
Publisher: Pitch
Rating: 4 stars

It is difficult to know where to start with this one, so I will begin with a bit of waffling. This is the third book written by Tim Brooks that I have read. A professional writer and commentator with a particular interest in the game as played outside its main centres. Thus his first book was Cricket on the Continent, published in 2016, and that was followed by A Corner of Every Foreign Field in 2020.

As its title suggests Cricket on the Continent deals with the game on the European mainland, and Denmark therefore features, and a couple of paragraphs in that book tell, very briefly, of The Batmaker of Copenhagen. The lengthy Historical Note that concludes the book is, effectively, an expanded version of the relevant section in Cricket on the Continent and gives a thorough account of the game’s development in Denmark.

But what of the main event, the story of Frederick Ferslev? The book starts in 1943 at the end of the cricket season and the sport, long established in Denmark, is on its last legs. The German occupation and the impossibility of sourcing new equipment meant that Danish cricket, without any means of replacing their disintegrating bats, would not be able to resume in 1944.

In the face of those difficulties Ferslev’s love of the game proves remarkable. He sets out to source willow for the blades, cane for the handles, an industrial press and to acquire the skills necessary to make bats from a standing start. Many obstacles, geographical, logistical and practical litter his path, but he gets there, and cricket is able to start again in 1944.

Running in parallel with the quest for cricket bats is a lesson from history, of the most sinister kind. Ferslev and the cricket club he lived for became a matter of interest for the local Gestapo chief, and his bat making adventure coincided with a concerted effort on his part and of others resisting the Nazi yoke to remain one step ahead of what would have no doubt been a grizzly fate had he been apprehended.

As is proclaimed on the cover, and indeed is set out in Cricket on the Continent, The Batmaker of Copenhagen is based on a true story, although there is no real clue as to where the facts stop and the fictionalised aspects begin. Not that it much matters. The narrative is very much in the form of a novel, and it certainly wouldn’t take much effort to adapt the story for film or the small screen.

The only real problem with this one is how to categorise it. In many ways it isn’t a cricket book at all, but at the same time the cricketing undercurrent is crucial to the entire story. Having ruled that out it probably isn’t a history book either, as I suspect the Gestapo involvement will be where the fictional elements lie. But exactly what genre the book belongs in doesn’t, perhaps, make a great deal of difference as whatever label you put on it, The Batmaker of Copenhagen is an excellent and thought provoking read.

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