Paul O’Brien’s debut, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, was one of the more enjoyable books I read last year, a wonderful combination of organized crime and professional wrestling circa the early 1970s. The book ended with a rather intense cliffhanger, and fortunately for fans of the first entry O’Brien is now back to pick up the story in Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2
As we learned in the first outing, professional wrestling in the early 70s was not the huge, centralized business it is today, but rather was broken into various territories held by individual owners spread throughout the country. And though the owners worked together to a certain degree for the greater good of the sport in general, at the same time each protected their turf ruthlessly.
One owner, Danno Garland, has managed to claw his way to the top of the heap and now controls the World Heavyweight Champion, which gives him tremendous power. It wasn’t an easy climb, however, and the backstabbing and double-crosses are now catching up with Danno. When his rivals lash out at him in a particularly horrific way, Danno turns his back on everything he’s ever known and loved and directs the same single-minded focus he used to build his wrestling empire to a new purpose–revenge.
The story is told by flashing back and forth between the time leading up to the lynchpin event and the days immediately following it. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, one which lets O’Brien fill in pertinent details and backstory from the first book in a very subtle way, allowing readers who may be joining the story in progress to hit the ground up to speed and running. It’s also a technique which provides for a natural buildup of tension, with the reader waiting for the inevitable head-on collision of the two storylines as they converge like runaway trains on single track.
O’Brien’s background is in writing for the stage, and that really shines through in Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2. The character development is a joy to watch unfold, with O’Brien proving to those who may have thought the wrestling setting of the first book was a gimmick (sorry, I couldn’t resist) that made him a one trick pony that they couldn’t be more wrong. Already in the twilight of his life, though at the top of his career, the events of Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 utterly destroy Danno Garland, turning him into a man running on little more than grief, fueled by revenge, with the only question being whether he will accomplish his self-appointed mission before completely flaming out. As written by O’Brien, it’s a transformation which is both thoroughly engaging and utterly heartbreaking.
But as captivating as Danno’s breakdown is, it’s Danno’s second-in-command, Ricky Plick, who really steals the show. A loyal man, Ricky tries his best to keep Danno from running completely off the rails and destroying both himself and the business. As loyal as he is, however, Ricky is also very shrewd, and as Danno’s downward spiral progresses Ricky knows that even after all their years together a decision will have to be made as to where his ultimate loyalty lies. After all, Ricky has his own crosses to bear, simultaneously dealing with his own failing body after years of abuse in the ring, as well as now looking out for his partner, Ginny, who isn’t the same following a traumatic event during the climax of Blood Red Turns Dollar Green.
And while Blood Red Turns Dollar Green included a significant amount of detail about wrestling, including some wonderful descriptions of in-ring action, which may have made some readers a bit wary, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 is a straight-up crime fiction novel which just happens to have the business of 1970s territorial professional wrestling as the backdrop. There’s still enough pro wrestling flavor to make fans of the sport happy–particularly in the character of Shane ‘The Sugarstick’ Montrose, a colorful, aging superstar–but if for any reason the wrestling angle had scared you off the first one, its extremely limited “on screen” time in this outing means there’s no excuse for you to not give Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 a try.
In fact, as much as I liked the first book, I believe Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 is even better. Telling a good crime story is hard enough, but doing so while putting a very human face on the devastation and consequences which flow from greed and power run amok is very tricky business, one which O’Brien manages with impressive aplomb.
Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 is available in both e-book and paperback formats at Amazon.