A dramatic, swiftly plotted tale of a deeply flawed man and his family caught between a tragic soccer coach with a heart of gold and his nemesis, who is intent on destruction regardless of the collateral damage.
Mario Santini’s son Luca has the potential to be a star soccer player, studying under the tutelage of former Bulgarian soccer star Georgi â€œBobo” Stoikov. Having defected to America and no longer able to play his beloved sport, purist Bobo works hard to instill a love of the game in the Michigan young men he coaches. Most of the parents deeply appreciate Bobo’s efforts and his strong commitment to sportsmanship. One man in particular, though, prefers to promote winning at all costs. Rival soccer coach Sonny Christopher is determined to undermine and eliminate the saintly Bobo using any means necessary, ignoring the potential consequences. When Sonny insinuates the unthinkable, both Bobo and Luca become outcasts, setting an unstoppable chain of events in motion that leaves two men dead and another fighting for his life. Maccagnone’s Catholic-influenced debut novel is full of tension–between Bobo and Sonny, Mario and his drug-smuggling family and between adulterous Mario and his innocent wife. Stock characters (save for Mario, who is deeply flawed and unlikable) cause the story to fall flat. The author is skilled at bringing soccer and boxing to life on the page and making them accessible to readers unfamiliar with the sports. However, while the overall story arc is solid, the author’s delivery could use editorial and structural polish. The book closes with two unrelated short stories, both of which are unremarkable. In â€œWhite Fang,” fraternal hijinks end in revenge in front of a church full of onlookers. In â€œMy Dog Tim,” a family dog’s last hurrah coincides with a boy’s transformation into a man.
High drama and a fast-moving plot boost a sports tragedy with stock characters.