Murder, professional wrestling, an underground punk rock scene, a nasty biker gang, a psychopathic mime, and a dominatrix with an affinity for 50’s style. If you read that and thought, “Hell, yeah!” just go ahead and buy Death Match. (And it’s clear why you’re my kind of people.)
If you read that and thought, “That’s… interesting.” please allow me to explain how those pieces fit together to form the entertaining puzzle that is author Jason S. Ridler’s debut novel.
Having barely survived his wild, drug and alcohol fueled youth as frontman for a punk band, Spar Battersea was finally able to get his life on track with the help of his friend, Ray. Now working at a book store and as a stringer for the local paper, the excitement in Spar’s life is confined to cheering for Ray’s alter-ego “Clown Royale” at his professional wrestling matches.
When Ray dies in the ring on the eve of the biggest match of his young career, Spar doesn’t buy the official conclusion: heart attack/natural causes. For one thing Ray was only 25 and healthy as a horse, and that also wouldn’t explain the disturbing and extensive scarring found on Ray’s back, some of it quite recent. Determined to do right by his friend, Spar wades into the underground world of shady wrestling promoters and discovers there was a lot about his friend he didn’t know. Now Spar has to decide just how far he’s willing to go to discover the truth, and if he really wants to know.
Along the way Spar crosses paths with former wrestling royalty Keith “The Bullet” Winnick (legendarily known to have killed a man in the ring back in his heyday), his former band the Knuckledusters (who kicked him out and still hold a serious grudge over Spar ruining their shot at a record contract), ends up in the crosshairs of Johnny Silent (a wrestler who takes his “gimmick” as a mime to a disturbing extreme), meets a six-foot tall June Cleaver lookalike with a sadistic streak, and runs afoul of the Pit Bull Army (a biker gang that controls the part of town where most of the wrestling events and punk shows take place).
To say there’s a lot going on in Death Match is putting it lightly, but author Jason S. Ridler first scatters then brings together all those pieces to form a very entertaining puzzle. You don’t have to be an aficionado of wrestling to “get” that aspect of the book, as Ridler does a wonderful job of smoothly working wrestling setups and lingo (gimmicks, shoots, jobs, sells, potatoes, and bumps abound) into the mix, but does so without overdoing it. Similarly, the underground punk scene is presented in enough detail to bring it believably to life, but without ever overpowering or derailing the ultimate driving force of the story: Spar’s investigation into Ray’s death.
And, ultimately, that’s what makes Death Match such an enjoyable read; it’s a genuinely interesting, well-written thriller/mystery about a guy trying to do right by his friend, and Ridler has skillfully balanced believable character development and motivation with some truly hair-raising action. I am definitely looking forward to the next puzzle the Ridler has to offer.
Death Match is available from Amazon.