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    Review of THEY FALL HARD by Alistair Boyle


    Allen A. Knoll Publishers, August 2004

    Gardener, real estate professional and part-time private detective Gil Yates gets a call from a dying man. Richard Manley's father had once been heavyweight champion of the world--but he lost two controversial fights and later died at only 38--of natural causes according to the Las Vegas police department. Manley wants Yates to investigate the fights (did his father throw them) and the death (was it murder). Although the case is stone-cold, Yates accepts--in exchange for the dying man's apartment buildings, which will give him the space he needs to plant palm trees.

    Yates tracks down the hot contender who beat the champ, the champ's ex-wife, his gambling associates and his trainer. None of the champ's camp believes Buddy Benson could possibly have lost to the young contender--and there's a lot of doubt about Buddy's refusing to answer the bell in the first fight, and possibly taking a dive in the second. As for the murder, there are plenty of possibilities. The police always look at the wife--and Buddy was not the most faithful husband. Then there are his mob connections. Finally, there are the Black Muslems who threatened him.

    Author Alistair Boyle (see more reviews of mysteries by Boyle) changes the names of his characters, but obviously draws from the controversial title fights between Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay/Mohammed Ali. Liston was the heavy favorite in both fights--and was a tough man with a rock-crushing punch. Although Ali became one of the greatest fighters ever, he was not yet at his peak. To me, much of THEY FALL HARD reads like a fan's attempt to make sense out of these strange title fights. Why did Liston fail to answer the bell--he'd fought seven rounds with a broken jaw in a previous bout, so he was no wimp? Is Boyle's proposed solution what actually happened? I don't know.

    Gil Yates makes an interesting character. He's smug, condescending to his wife (whom he calls Tyranus Rex) and his father-in-law who employes him although Yates blows him off and does no apparent work (and then complains that his father-in-law never leaves his chair). On the other hand, he goes out of his way to mend fences between Abu Hambali (Mohammed Ali) and Abu's boxer-daughter. Frankly, I didn't like him but that's probably a matter of personal taste.

    THEY FALL HARD reads like an old-fashioned detective mystery. There isn't the violence so common in modern mysteries, although the threat of violence is always present. I would have liked to see a more dramatic wrap-up to the mystery--as it was, I really had the sense that Yates's solution made sense but, even in the story context, wasn't a slam-dunk.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 6/01/09

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