PEERLESS JIM by Alexander Cordell


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With his empathic appreciation of Welsh ambience and idiom (cf. This Sweet and Bitter Earth, 1978), Cordell center-rings--in a fictional biography--the 1907 Featherweight Champion of the World, Jim Driscoll (1880-1925), the ""Prince of Cardiff."" Born into the poverty of Cardiff's irish ghetto, Driscoll sells fish with his widowed mother at the age of five through the awakening streets of New-town: ""old men with braces dangling mooching down the garden, cats being booted, grans and granchers blowing at tea."" Also in the household: a new stepfather; new siblings; and lodger Carrie O'Shea, an unattainable but flaming older lass ""of tinker stock with hips that drove men demented."" Jim begins his boxing career at noisy local fairs, in the boxing booths ""decorated with muscular chaps taking stances and insulting the crowd."" Rising rapidly, he learns the glory, the peculiar loneliness of the ring (""the only friend you've got in the world is the man you're fighting""), and the boxer's fears--blindness, battered mind and body, ""the husky soprano of the human chopping block."" in 1907 Jim marries the lovely Edie, a pub owner's daughter; in N.Y.C. he wins the championship, dubbed ""peerless"" by Bat Masterson; he returns home a super-hero, lionized by both lords and low-lifes. But generous Jim, to Edie's despair, compulsively gives away his money to charity, to the ""cauliflower fraternity"" of burnt-out boxers. He's betrayed by friends, one of whom compels him to foul for the first time in his clean and gentlemanly career. He's gassed and exploited (20,000 three-minute exhibition rounds) during the Great War--but goes on fighting through illness. . . to a fine, weepy melodrama of a demise. In mellow, large-hearted, boozy prose: an Irish/Welsh mixture of Pete Hamill and Jimmy Cannon, with lots of information and evocative warmth for a boxing/nostalgia audience.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton--dist. by David & Charles