A retro noir valentine to big-city, small-time boxing.
Al Kelly is a layoff bookie who makes a careful living by taking the action other bookmakers can't handle; his iron rule of never taking a position himself on any of the bets he places protects him equally, he thinks, against big gains or big losses. His caution makes him unique among newcomer Monroe's cast of schemers whose aim is a lot higher than their ethics. Al's sidekick Gene is constantly on him to pick up a piece of his own action. Ex-con fight promoter Robert J. Lipranski ("The Lip") plans to ride his discovery Junior Hamilton all the way to a title bout against Floyd Patterson—as soon as Junior obliges by knocking out local heavyweight contender Tomcat Gordon. Syndicate stalwart Angelo Carpacci already has a big piece of The Lip; Lincoln Johnson, the unofficial mayor of Bronzeville, wants a piece himself in return for setting up the bout. (Imagine what will happen when The Lip's creditors realize they both own the same piece.) And Junior, who's been training like a madman, can hardly wait for the moment when he can let loose against Tomcat, even though he's haunted by the fearsome secret that blackmailer Cleotis Gibson is threatening to reveal. When a combination of bad judgment and betrayal by his fellow bookies puts Al behind the eight-ball, he's ready to join the others in the pressure cooker that Monroe's stylish period piece already has steaming. The only fly in the ointment: a couple of unnecessary murders and a paraplegic cop whose mission of vengeance against syndicate kingpin Sam Giancana makes him entirely too clean-cut for this nest of vipers.
A knowing, reeking, man's-man of a story with a finale right out of Hemingway. Fainthearted readers may want to wait for the film Miramax has under development to sort out the two-dozen subplots.