[I read this for a mailing list discussion and these comments are taken from that discussion; which means that they are out of context and contain spoilers.]
[on the setting]
At the beginning I didn't think either setting was going to work for me.
I like the odd historical novel but this was feeling very self
conciously historical as it was using a style of writing of the time as
well and that's not a style I'm that familiar with. Boxing is a sport
that doesn't appeal to me in the slightest and after a few pages of
getting confused by terms and characters I decided that I wasn't going
to go the distance and resolved to just give this book the fifty page
test and give up.
After fifty pages I was hooked, my ear had become accustomed to the
narration, the boxing scene and its characters had come alive for me and
there was no way I could put the book down. I think the author did a
really good job of setting the scenes and I enjoyed the look into the
newspaper world as well. I haven't quite finished yet so I'm not sure
how much of the plot could only happen in a boxing setting but it feels
to me very much as if the fact that many of the major characters are all
people who put their lives and health on the line for a living is
essential to the way that they view the world.
[on the characters]
Claire Escalante is the character who will stick with me I think. The
book was basically about tough men and the inclusion of a really strong
female character was what it needed to make it appeal to me. On the
whole I thought most of the characters were strongly portrayed. After I
got through the first couple of chapters there were very few characters
that I was "um, remind me who this guy is again" about. Billy himself
had a very clear voice and telling little stories about each person like
how they came by their nicknames helped me keep all the men straight in
my head. There were plenty of characters I didn't like much but I can't
pick out any who seemed badly written or wishy washy.
I thought Muller handled the marital relationships between Billy and Ida
and Hack and Claire well, lots of weird stuff going on but the way that
the characters dealt with and reacted to situations seemed real to me.
As to professional relationships, everybody seemed a little too
reverential towards Billy and while this enforced the idea of him as a
key player in the boxing community it did seem that he ought to have a
few more explicit enemies around the place.
On the whole I thought the characters were convincing, larger than life
and not anyone I'd want to meet but they fit well into the story and the
[on the noir-ness]
I don't really know enough about noir to answer this at any length but
the tag "noir" brings to my mind a vision of men in hats and overcoats
with cigars skulking in dark alleyways whilst neon signs flicker on and
off, all happening in monochrome of course. And that's the same kind
of aura that this book gave to me. The setting and the way Billy
narrated the story seemed very noirish to me but, as I say, I really
don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to noir.
[on the noir-ness]
I felt that Billy was trustworthy in that he was telling us what he saw
and not embellishing or changing things to suit any agenda. But we were
seeing it all filtered through his eyes and so we only saw what others
chose to present to him. I don't think the story would have been so
compelling if the author hadn't have stuck so rigidly to Billy's
viewpoint. If the story had been told in the third person it would have
lost a lot of its believability.
I enjoyed both the newspaper articles, which helped put this book in its
place, and the anecdotes, which really helped flesh out the characters
in my head.
[on the ending]
I knew this would come up sooner or later so I've been waiting to ask
about it as I was confused too.
I got the impression that Billy forged a confession from Claire to give
to Francis O'Connor in order to get Hack mostly off the hook. The story
in that confession was "Claire strangles Gig, Hack shows up, Hack and
Claire dispose of body". We know that it was Billy rather than Claire
who helped Hack dispose of the body.
When I read about the forged confession I thought Billy was foisting the
murder off on Claire simply because she was dead and it couldn't do her
any harm. In Claire's real letter to Billy she says "Hack didn't mean
to kill Gig" as if that is what she thought happened but earlier in the
book Hack knew nothing about the strangulation. So I went back and read
the last few pages again thinking that I'd missed something and someone
else was implicated, perhaps Burney, but that didn't seem to have
happened. And I finished the book feeling that I still didn't quite
know the whole who-and-why-and-how-dunnit. Was Claire's confession, as
forged by Billy, the truth, or did Billy never get to the bottom of it
either, or did I miss something entirely?
The slightly unfinished feeling that I had at the end of the book of not
quite being certain what had really happened did spoil the book for me
ever so slightly.
Purchased on 6th December 2002.