The Distance: A Crime Novel Introducing Billy Nichols Hardcover – January 1, 2002
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As the son of a West Coast boxing writer, Muller is writing from strength when he makes his protagonist, Billy Nichols, a newspaper boxing columnist who easily keeps pace with the mugs and thugs he covers. The setting is post-World War II San Francisco and Nichols is a journalist who pounds out his stories, stopping only afterward to ask the right questions.
His relationship to the heavyweight Hack Escalante takes a startling turn early in the story as Billy finds himself an accessory to a crime that it seems Hack has just committed. Gig Liardi, Hack's manager, is lying dead on the floor of his apartment, less than a half-hour after summoning Billy over for a scoop, and Hack's knuckles are bloody, though his eyes are wet. "This boy should never have been a fighter," Billy thinks, watching him. "Now he was a killer. A couple of his tears dropped on Gig's face."
Even if prizefighters do cry, this scene is still only one high point in a tough, vivid re-creation of a lost era of urban sports history that swaggers on for almost 40 more chapters. More mystery novels featuring "Mr. Boxing," as Billy Nichols is known, will certainly be welcome by mystery fans, but come early to the series now and get a ringside seat! --Otto Penzler
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
- Publisher : Scribner (January 1, 2002)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0743214439
- ISBN-13 : 978-0743214438
- Item Weight : 1.26 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.42 x 1.02 x 9.52 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,599,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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THE DISTANCE combines two cultural elements which are now fading memories: professional boxing and the great newspapers. The Brown Bomber has retired to debt, and the heavyweight crown is available for a price. San Francisco is served by five daily newspapers. [Television is just coming on board and has not yet swamped the ship.] Men are men and women are women, and don't bet on the outcome.
Noir fiction depends for its success on authentic speech more than on highly cultivated plot, and Muller does a fine job of recreating the languages of the period. Just listen, and you can hear the color!
I liked especially that Muller mixed it up, but never went for the knockout. THE DISTANCE, as a title, reflects that long 15 rounds which were the nature of a life then, the grinding working class struggle to survive. And precious little whining.
The Distance covers the boxing scene in the Bay Area in 1948. The author's father was a sports columnist for over 30 years covering boxing, and it would seem that his understandling and love for the sport passed through to his son.
Not since James Ellroy's The Big Nowhere has a crime novel caught the sense of place that The Distance does. The reader experiences mid-century San Francisco and the many larger than life characters there as if he had been transported there. One literally feels that he could walk the streets of San Francisco with nothing but this book serving as a map.
The novel opens with a bang and does not let up all the way through. There's great tension between the charactes and we care greatly about the protagonist and his many challenges. The argot of the period is expressed with panache and complete realism.
All I can say about the plot without spoiling it is that it crackles all the way through the book. I read this book in a very crowded coach section of a trans-continental flight and completely forgot how crammed in and tired I was.
If you're a fan of sport, the Bay Area, and or noir, you can't go wrong with this book. it will stick in memory for a very long time.
The outstanding appeal of this book - and its sequel SHADOW BOXER - 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. Eddie Muller turns the conventions of noir and hard-boiled novels on their heads.