Recently I have written how much I enjoyed the first two books in the Fight Card series (Felony Fists by Paul Bishop and The Cutman by Mel Odom). However, in my reviews I suggested that a boxing story would always be predictable because they will always end with the ‘big fight’ and that the hero will win. Well now I find myself in the embarrassing situation of having to eat my words. There is nothing predictable about the third instalment of the Fight Card series, Split Decision by Eric Beetner.
And I must say, I am delighted to eat my words. I think I just have a narrow view of what a pulp boxing tale can be – maybe I have watched too many Rocky films!
Split Decision has a beautifully simple premise. It’s the story of Jimmy Wyler, a middle of the pack fighter, in Kansas City. He wants to make some money, so he can buy a diamond ring for his loyal girlfriend Lola. Then along comes a hood named Cardone, and he offers Jimmy a wad of cash if he’ll take part in a fixed fight. Jimmy, against his better judgment agrees. And in this instance is allowed to win the fight.
So now he’s hooked. He’s a fighter who’ll take money to alter the outcome of a bout. Cardone comes a calling for Jimmy’s next fight. But this time he wants Jimmy to take a dive in the forth. Easy enough. But then it gets tricky. An up-an-comer, in the organised crime world, named Whit, comes along with another proposition. He wants Jimmy to win by knocking out his opponent in the third. Jimmy says he can’t. But Whit isn’t the type you can say no to.
So there it is, Jimmy Wyler is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place – and whatever his decision, it is gonna cause trouble – the dangerous kind. What I really liked about Split Decision was that it was unpredictable; it put its main protagonist through the ringer; and didn’t take the soft option for the resolution. I have read too many of these stories, where the hero appears to be trapped between two warring factions, only to have one of the factions be really good guys, like undercover police, or something like that. Thankfully, author Eric Beetner does not take the soft option. He serves up the boxing equivalent of Yojimbo or a Fistful of Dollars – putting his hero (if I can call him that), smack dab in the middle. But Wyler is not so self serving. He hasn’t deliberately put himself in harm’s way. And his prize is not a fistful of dollars. As I said, all he wants is to get a ring for his girl.
Split Decision has a very different feel from the first two Fight Card stories, but still delivers the same hard punching thrills in a distinctly noirish tale. If had been made into a film in the Golden Days of Hollywood, John Garfield would have played Jimmy Wyler. It’s that kind of story. I finished it in one sitting. It’s that entertaining. Highly recommended.
Split Decision is available from Amazon.
Kansas City, 1939. One story from two points of view: the hunter and the hunted. Ray Ward – seeking revenge for his brother’s death in the boxing ring. Detective Dean Fokoli – hot on a killer’s trail.
Ray’s hunt takes him underground into Kansas City’s criminal nightlife. Dean Fokoli lives there full time but he’s on the run from his own troubles. Two men racing forward to collide like a knockout punch.
A razor-edged story of revenge, redemption and what happens when you confront the ghosts of the past.
You can find out more about Beetner at his blog – where he commits crimes – on paper!
Set in Outback Australia, in Birdsville, one of the most remote towns on the planet, two rival boxing tents set up shop in competition with each other. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and a tent burns.