This is a novel that guts the underbelly of southern Indiana and leaves the reader with either a rush of adrenaline or a wave of loathing.
Jarhead can’t find a job to feed his hungry babies, so he robs a gun store for $1,000—not a dollar more or a dollar less. His only skill is bare-knuckle fighting, and he needs the money for the entry fee to the Donnybrook, a tournament where 20 men fight each other in a 30-by-30 enclosure until only one is left standing. Winners advance through several rounds, producing an ultimate winner who takes home a hundred grand in cash. It’s the only path Jarhead can see for a better life for his family. Unfortunately, it’s a path soaked in blood. Nearly everyone else of importance in this grim tale is a murderer, a meth dealer or user, a whore or an abuser of whores. Chainsaw Angus is Jarhead’s biggest obstacle in the Donnybrook, as he has never lost a fight in his life. Chainsaw’s sister Liz is a prostitute who puts a bullet in a man’s head while they are having sex. Bill portrays depravity and violence as few others can—or perhaps as few others dare to do. The problem is that most of the characters are one-dimensional, irredeemable, sorry wastes of protoplasm. It’s hard to imagine so many people showing so little decency in the same story. Yet the plot builds relentlessly to the final round of the Donnybrook and gives the reader unexpected jolts all the way through to an ending that strongly suggests a sequel.
Bill is one hell of a storyteller. If he makes his characters a little more complex, he could become one of the best, but this book doesn’t quite get him there.