Billy Nichols, last seen in Muller’s brilliant debut (The Distance, 2002), thought the whole dismal business was done with. A woman he’d loved was dead, her murderer nailed, jailed, and awaiting trial, so what else was there? The San Francisco Inquirer boxing editor finds out in a return match he never planned or wanted. A “lush-lipped, one-time dreamboat” asks him, “You the guy they call Mr. Boxing?” and the next thing Billy knows he’s paying a call at the county lockup, where his own evidence sent Burney Sanders, whose missus is a powerfully persuasive dreamboat, particularly to guys like Billy who are susceptible to dreamboats, however shopworn. It’s a frame, her old man insists (uh-huh), but the odd thing is that soon enough it looks to Billy as if Burney might actually be right. Without a doubt there are some connected wheeler-dealers with reason to want bent and bothersome Burney out of the way. Just let it lay, Billy’s smarter self tries to warn him. Billy tries. But when scared, worried, leggy, curvy Ginny Wagner, an authentic dreamboat if there ever was one, turns up with her telltale accordion file, Billy can’t turn his back on it. Or on her.
Steamy, noirish, and lovingly pitch-perfect in its treatment of the world of boxing, circa 1948–49. As for Billy, that ranking contender in the amoralist class, he continues to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, and take his lumps like Rocky Graziano.