My second Fight Card novelette, Rumble in the Jungle is now live and available for kindle (the paperback shouldn’t be far away).
The Fight Card books are a blast to write, so when I finished up my first entry in the series, King of the Outback, I immediately knew I wanted to write another. However, I thought I had gone as far as I could with the characters in that story. That is to say, I couldn’t write a direct sequel. So I had to look for a new tale to tell. My first thoughts drifted toward a tale set in the seedy American underworld. But other writers in the Fight Card series – such as Eric Beetner and Heath Lowrance – had already written fantastic books showcasing boxing, intermingled with the American underworld. I knew I couldn’t walk down that path, or if I did, all I would be doing, was writing a limp pastiche of what had gone before.
So to move forward, I knew I had to look for other ideas and settings. The first flash of inspiration came on the train to work. I happened to be listening to an audio book of Ian Fleming’s Moonraker, and a passage described how James Bond looked to casual observers. Here’s the passage.
Moonraker. Ian Fleming (1956) – page 28 of the Pan paperback (24th printing, 1969).
And what could the casual observer think of him, ‘Commander James Bond, CMG, RNVSR’, also ‘something at the Ministry of Defence’, the rather saturnine young man in his middle thirties sitting opposite the Admiral? Something a bit cold and dangerous in that face. Looks pretty fit. May have been attached to Templer in Malaya. Or Nairobi. Mau Mau work. Tough looking customer. Doesn’t look the sort of chap one usually sees in Blades.
Mau Mau work. The idea of setting the story during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya peaked my interest. It suited the time frame perfectly, as the Fight Card books are all set in the 1950s. And on the surface, the Mau Mau seemed like a ready-made villain. I thought it would be great to drop a boxer, smack dab into the middle of that conflict.
However, the conflict was far too complex and multi-faceted to provide an entertaining framework to build a story around. At least, without spending many thousands of words on lengthy explanations of the conflict – certainly not suitable for a 25,000 word novelette. Also, history has changed the perception of the Mau Mau conflict greatly. What was once considered a violent rebellion is now considered a turning point to Kenyan democratic freedom. So unlike in Fleming’s time, the Mau Mau are now the good guys.
Instead, I created the fictitious country of Sezanda, and the villains are not so much the Sezanda Socialist Army (standing in for the Mau Mau), but a group of neo-Nazis who are behind a similar style of rebellion.
I was sad to see the Mau Mau go, but if I continued with the style of story I wanted to write, I would have appeared as a blinkered, ignorant, racist – which was certainly not my intention. I simply wanted a conflict as background, to drop my protagonists into. But that’s the thing with any conflict I guess, there is always two sides.
So I had a setting. Now I needed a hero. In King of the Outback, Tommy King is a ready-made hero. Right from the get-go, he has the tools (his fists) and attitude to fight for what’s right. In some ways he is a ‘superman’, albeit one who bleeds – a lot! This time I wanted the main protagonist to be somewhat more of a ‘reluctant hero’.
As it happened, I was watching an old Chuck Norris film, A Force of One (please don’t hold that against me). What struck me, was how much more enjoyable it was than many of Chuck’s later offerings, in which he would play pretty much a superman. In A Force of One, Chuck, despite his formidable skills, refuses to be drawn into the local police’s attempts to track down a karate killer. Chuck does not want to get involved. But of course, after the bad guys mess with Chuck’s family (bad move), he does become involved, and when that happens, there is a palpable frisson. It is a Hell Yeah! moment. We know Chuck didn’t start the fight, but he is damn well going to finish it.
In Rumble in the Jungle, I wanted to use a similar style protagonist. A man who does not want to fight, but has no other option. In the story, that man is Brendan O’Toole, a man who has lost everything and wants to be left alone. But as civil war breaks out in Africa, O’Toole is left with very little choice but to fight.
I am proud of Rumble in the Jungle. I think it serves up the kind of characters and pugilistic action fans of the Fight Card series have come to expect. It contains more action than two full length novels, and hits harder than a Mack truck. But it also brings something new to the series. It is a story of love, loss, redemption and ultimately standing up to tyranny and oppression. I hope you enjoy it.
Hell’s Kitchen, 1953
Brendan O’Toole is on a downward slide. When his wife dies in a freak car accident, he quits his job and hits the bottle hard. Half tanked in the ring, he allows himself to be knocked out, ending his boxing career.
O’Toole, hits rock bottom, after a night of boozing, he is brutally mugged and left for dead. But O’Toole has friends, even if he can’t see it. One of them is Danny Reilly, the barman with a heart of gold. He arranges for O’Toole to join a construction crew, set to work on a hotel being built in the Central African jungle nation of Sezanda. It O’Toole’s last shot at redemption.
Sezanda, Central Africa, 1954
As things begin to look up for O’Toole, the Sezandan government is overthrown in a military coup. All foreigners are taken prisoner, and locked in concentration camps. O’Toole is sent to the worst, HELL CAMP XXI, under the control of a brutal ex-Nazi, Kommandant Krieger. Krieger has a special way of keeping the prisoners under control. In the camp, he has erected a boxing ring. And anyone who steps out of line is forced to face off against his man-mountain, wrecking machine, Crator – a man whose sole purpose is to inflict pain.
Fate has destined Brendan O’Toole to don the gloves one more time, in a fight not just for his life, but his very soul.