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.