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In 1949, San Francisco sportswriter and boxing devotee Billy Nichols becomes caught in a dangerous web of deceit, betrayal, and desire when he comes to the aid of heavyweight boxer Hack Escalante, who has killed his manager. A first novel. 12,500 first printing.
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Penzler Pick, January 2002: This debut mystery is by an author who already has a claim on the hearts of his audience: he produced two splendid works of nonfiction that are must-haves for every mystery lover's library, Dark City Dames and Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir. Both take readers down new paths into a familiar, haunting landscape--that of the 1940s and '50s films that brought such a paradoxical blend of artifice and authenticity to the small, claustrophobic world of crime.
As the son of a West Coast boxing writer, Muller is writing from strength when he makes his protagonist, Billy Nichols, a newspaper boxing columnist who easily keeps pace with the mugs and thugs he covers. The setting is post-World War II San Francisco and Nichols is a journalist who pounds out his stories, stopping only afterward to ask the right questions.
His relationship to the heavyweight Hack Escalante takes a startling turn early in the story as Billy finds himself an accessory to a crime that it seems Hack has just committed. Gig Liardi, Hack's manager, is lying dead on the floor of his apartment, less than a half-hour after summoning Billy over for a scoop, and Hack's knuckles are bloody, though his eyes are wet. "This boy should never have been a fighter," Billy thinks, watching him. "Now he was a killer. A couple of his tears dropped on Gig's face."
Even if prizefighters do cry, this scene is still only one high point in a tough, vivid re-creation of a lost era of urban sports history that swaggers on for almost 40 more chapters. More mystery novels featuring "Mr. Boxing," as Billy Nichols is known, will certainly be welcome by mystery fans, but come early to the series now and get a ringside seat! --Otto PenzlerFrom the Publisher:
Starred review from KIRKUS REVIEWS:
"The man on the living room floor is obviously dead, the man looming over him obviously responsible. The thing that's never obvious to Billy Nichols is why he decides to take a hand. The year is 1949, and Billy--"Mr. Boxing" to the sporting fraternity--has it made. "Through the Ropes," his column in the SAN FRANCISCO INQUIRER, is the manly art's bible, and he exults in the celebrity he's earned through talent, diligence, and integrity. As everybody in his often shady world knows, Billy plays square, which is probably why Hack Escalante phoned him, begging for help, moments after realizing he'd accidentally killed his snake-in-the-grass manager. Billy is fond of Hack, a local heavyweight of modest talent, but he's never considered him a serious friend. Instead of offering to get the kid a good lawyer, though, he finds himself helping to bury the body. "Sometimes what you do, there's no explanation for," he tells himself later while acknowledging how dumb and dangerous his decision has been. Soon enough a smart, persistent homicide detective is a fixture in his life. So is Claire Escalante, as dubious as she is desirable. Hack's downhearted frail of a wife lies as expertly as she makes love. Some good people get hurt, some die, and Billy himself suffers hard shots to the heart in the process of learning what it takes to go the distance."
"Pungent, poignant, wonderfully atmospheric--an absolute knockout of a first novel. If it doesn't get at least short-listed for an Edgar, the fix is in."
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