Though the situation part-time social worker, part-time professional boxing sparring partner Duffy Dombrowski finds himself in starts out merely strange, things quickly elevate to downright life threatening in The Vegas Knockout, author Tom Schreck’s fourth entry in the Duffy Dombrowski series.
When Duffy gets a chance to go to Vegas and serve as the sparring partner for Russian heavyweight Boris Rusakov it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. After creatively figuring out how to ditch the two week seminar he’s supposed to be attending for his social worker job, Duffy heads to Vegas with his sidekick, basset hound Al, in tow.
Instead of staying at a glamorous location on The Strip and working in first-class conditions, however, Duffy finds himself quartered at a brothel on the outskirts of town and subjected to lopsided and dirty sparring techniques. Still, he’s getting paid well and it is Vegas.
But when Boris and his crew attempt to “promote” a worker at the brothel from maid to prostitute against her will Duffy isn’t about to ignore the matter and puts a stop to things. Permanently. And that’s when it gets really ugly. Boris’s connections in the Russian mob don’t take kindly to Duffy’s interference, and make it their mission in life to make sure Duffy understands that. Permanently.
There’s more than a little of author Tom Schreck in Duffy, as Schreck has in reality both worked as a social worker and is well versed in the world of boxing. Schreck’s hands-on experience with those matters gives the Duffy series an undeniable level of gritty realism, and The Vegas Knockout is no exception. The sparring scenes are particularly fascinating, with Schreck educating the reader on the subtleties of what goes on in a boxing ring without things ever feeling like an instructional manual. (Apparently it is decidedly not cool for your opponent to wear fight weight gloves during sparring… especially if you’re saddled with full weight sparring gear.)
And though used primarily for comic relief, both basset hound Al and Duffy’s crew from the bar back home are nevertheless a welcome and necessary addition to the Duffy stories. When Duffy decides to get Al designated a “service dog” so he can bring Al on the plane with him to Vegas, given Al’s headstrong personality and bad manners the resulting trip through the airport is both profane and laugh out loud funny. As are the often bizarrely out of nowhere conversations held between the members of Duffy’s unofficial posse, which includes Jerry Number One and Jerry Number Two, a hard line conservative and dyed-in-the-wool hippie respectively.
Readers new to the series will have no problem keeping up with events, as Schreck does a good job weaving in the necessary elements of backstory to let people hit the ground running. Longtime fans of the series will find The Vegas Knockout to be driven, as usual, by Duffy’s distinct moral compass and refusal to sit by passively when he sees injustice, but they’ll also find a story that’s a bit darker than previous entries. It’s a nice step-up for Duffy, and bodes well for the long-term growth of an already very enjoyable series.
The Vegas Knockout is available from Thomas & Mercer (ISBN: 978-1612182803).
And be sure to read Tom’s guest post, “Bad Fight Scenes.”