Eddie Muller - SHADOW BOXER
San Francisco's "Mr Boxing" - sports writer Billy Nichols - is begged by ex-promoter Burnell Sanders to get him out of a hole. The hole is a jail cell he's languishing in for a murder he says he didn't commit. On the face of it, Sanders has picked the wrong person to help him - Billy played a big part in Sanders being arrested in the first place, and Billy has more than a couple of secrets relating to the whole sorry episode that he would prefer remain hidden. However, Sanders' choice of slightly tarnished white knight is shrewder than even he realises. Billy's nose for a good story, his innate sense of justice, and the temptation of a beautiful and mysterious dame lead him inexorably down the mean streets to truth and danger, as he shadow boxes his way through the book - unsure of who's telling the truth and who's putting up guards.
The outstanding appeal of this book for me is the character of Billy Nichols. His tough, cynical outer shell hides a vulnerable interior. He's not the typical macho noir protagonist. He's a sensitive, perceptive, flawed man. He's a storyteller - a chronicler of fact and, sometimes, a creator of fiction. But he's an honest liar, unlike many of the other characters in the book. Because Billy doesn't have that cold, self-destructive, caring for nothing and nobody streak that is the territory of a noir protagonist, the book is suffused with warmth, light, passion and heart.
The characters have a cinematic quality about them. Eddie Muller is a very skillful writer and so good at descriptions that, within a few sentences, the characters come to life in front of you. None of them are stereotypes - each one is capable of surprising the reader. None are all good or all bad. Muller turns the conventions of noir and hard-boiled fiction on their heads - the women in this book are the tough ones. The female characters in SHADOW BOXER are particularly well drawn. Even those who only have bit parts inspire strong emotions.
SHADOW BOXER is very much a sequel to Eddie's first book - THE DISTANCE. If you haven't read that, read it first. If you have, and are saving SHADOW BOXER for a rainy day, don't wait any longer - read it now; you won't regret it.