A mixed martial arts gladiator falls prey to local hoodlums when he and his family return home to rural Ontario.
This debut novel by Canadian writer Hardcastle (Debris, 2016) is a scorched-earth crime story built out of brittle prose and barely suppressed violence. Our protagonist is Daniel, once a renowned cage fighter who has given up the sport due to injury and worries from his wife, Sarah, and young daughter, Madelyn. The first contemporary scene opens on the wreckage of Daniel’s truck, stolen and trashed by a perturbed local. Daniel is something of a wreck himself, having returned to his hometown in shame and working odd jobs to get by. We soon learn that he’s fallen in with an old friend of his father’s named Clayton, a thug up to his ears in drugs, theft, and other crimes. Daniel is just providing muscle, but he finds his craving to fight runs deeper than he imagined. He starts training with Jasper, a trainer at a small gym. Asked if her husband is even fit to fight, Sarah says, “We won’t know unless he actually fights….But, whatever he thinks, I don’t believe he’s the kind of man to just take this back up as a hobby.” Finally, Daniel agrees to a competitive match in a local ballroom, with Clayton betting a significant sum on him to win. This is a masterful mashup between genres, matching the masculine violence of the cage match with country-tinged, Mamet-esque dialogue that elevates these characters into rich portraits of desperate people living for sheer survival.
A crime novel with the pulse of a sports drama and the bitter toxicity of the best country noir.