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Rencor: Life in Grudge City Paperback – June 17, 2016
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About the Author
Matt Wallace is the author of The Next Fix, The Failed Cities, Slingers and the Sin du Jour series. He’s also penned over one hundred short stories, a few of which have won awards and been nominated for others, in addition to writing for film and television. In his youth he traveled the world as a professional wrestler and unarmed combat and self-defense instructor before retiring to write full-time. He now resides in Los Angeles with the love of his life and inspiration for Sin du Jour’s resident pastry chef.
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Top Customer Reviews
But times change, careers end and none ended as spectacularly as El Mil Calaveras’. A ‘rudo’ or villain, Cal lost the first ever Loser Leaves Town match to his arch nemesis; El Victor. Like his opponent, the ‘tecnico’ was the latest in a line of men to wear the mask. Like his opponent, he had no idea he’d be the last. Their final match was the stuff of legend; both men seriously injured, both men reaching the top of their careers and both men finding nothing else there. Victor made the best of it. Cal left. Neither forgave. Neither forgot.
Until a crime unlike anything else they’ve seen brings Cal back to Grudge City...
The temptation to open this with ‘He’s a wrestler! His partner’s a wrestler! THEY’RE COPS!’ was almost too much but I resisted. The latest from the incomparable Matt Wallace sits, like the city it’s named for, in the middle of some fascinating territory. It’s an action story, a thriller, a horror piece and a love letter to the most flamboyant and magnificent style of professional wrestling in the world.
But it’s also a story and this sounds profoundly odd given some of the subject matter, about hope.
The worst thing that ever happened to El Victor was winning. Wallace does his best work exploring the tecnico’s fading glory and his painful awareness of that. Victor is still the best of the best but he was defined by his opponent. There’s no hero without a villain and that’s a hard lesson for Victor. Harder still is seeing his increasingly broken down grandfather and father and worrying that he shares their fate; the rest of his life signing photos for dwindling audiences of people who came of age after he left the ring.
The best thing that ever happened to Victor was losing. The rudo’s love for the finer things in life, and magnificently criminal past, give him a welcome and very surprising new job. Instead of staying in Rencor and seeing the city fade, he’s given the opportunity to head out into the world and try something new. He’s evolved, but, like Victor, is still drawn to Rencor.
The two men are partnered with two equally impressive female leads. Gypsy, Victor’s ‘assistant’ is in fact frequently the designated grownup in the room. The Thai Boxing Pepper Potts to Victor’s masked Tony Stark she’s also a look at Rencor how it used to be. A magnificent, two fisted confection of secret submarines, evil science and villains who could get a better table at the restaurant than you.
Her counterpart, Special Agent Stella O’Shaugnessey is Cal’s handler. She’s also the most grounded person in the room and Wallace does great work balancing Gypsy’s deep love of Rencor life with Stella’s amused horror. This by no means a normal city. At all. Wrestling match stipulations are built into the local laws. But between the two of them, and Cal and Victor, Wallace makes Rencor a real, lived in place.
A winner, a loser, a fan and an outsider. Four people who are uniquely equipped to understand Rencor are drawn to one of its oddest cases yet. Wallace guides the audience through the world, using location to push plot and character to push both to set up something which is deeply odd, a little ludicrous and surprisingly disturbing. The forces ranged against Cal, Victor, Gypsy and Stella are huge and may not be fully human. For now though, they’re small enough to punch. Just not with a closed if you’re a tecnico. At least not if anyone’s looking…
That, oddly, is where the hope comes from. Victor learns a little about being bad, Cal learns a lot about being good. By the end of the novella the two men are by no means friends but they are complete. The presence of each gives the other permission to be their best and at their best both men are capable of incredible heroism as well as brutality. The masks may never come off, but the men beneath them can change and this is a story about them finding that out.
This is classic Wallace. Funny, bloody-knuckled and character driven, Rencor: Life in Grudge City is a thriller like nothing else you’ll read this year. Essential work from an essential
In the city of Rencor, everything revolved around lucha libre. The good guy wrestlers--the técnicos-- were living superheroes, taking down monsters, madmen, and the rudos-- the bad guy wrestlers. All of that is in the past, but an unusual theft-- and a possible living mummy-- kicks off a series of events that lead to the greatest técnico of all, El Victor, and his arch-enemy, El Mil Calaveras (Man of a Thousand Skulls, Cal for short) working the case together. The result is a cross between Lethal Weapon and Lucha Underground, as Cal and Vic try to solve the case without killing each other.
Oh, this is so much fun. Written in Wallace's terse, sarcastic style, Rencor is a love letter to the wonderful, ridiculous world of lucha, where the lines of reality are blurred and no one is quite sure if their memories come from the monster movies they made in between bouts. Cal and Vic are both wonderfully engaging characters, and it's enjoyable to watch the two of them verbally spar even without the imminent threat of a monster attack.
In conclusion, I'd happily read another dozen stories set in this world. More, please.
That said, I believe this is his best work yet. Wrestling, lucha libre, Mexican culture and cuisine, and cheesy movies are all very important topics for Wallace, and it shows in his writing. Is this a silly, even ridiculous story about outrageous people in an unbelievable world? Yes, but it's also a very serious study of the real world and real values. Just like lucha libre, it only really works when it's both.
There are masks and superheroes and cheesy buddy cop dialogue and an actual reanimated mummy! And there's a deep study of gentrification and colonialism in the borderland. And there's an exploration of the various forms of toxic masculinity and what it does both to and for the men who are interpellated into it. And there's punching! And super cool wresting moves! And generations-old dynasties of heroic and villainous enmascarados! And an example of how legacy and expectation shapes our values and lives.
Read this book. Get me a sequel!