Author Paul O’Brien showed up on my radar back in 2012 with the novel Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, an engaging trip through the back rooms and shady deals that formed the backbone of the professional wrestling circuit during its heyday of the late 1960s/early 1970s.
O’Brien built the story of battling territory owners Proctor King and Danno Garland to a crescendo that was left tantalizingly hanging, before picking things up in early 2013 with Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2, which focuses on Garland, who has finally clawed his way to the top and now controls the World Heavyweight Champion.
It wasn’t an easy climb, however, and the backstabbing and double-crosses finally catch up with Garland, who gets caught in a deadly downward spiral of retaliation and revenge. Relative bit players in the first book, ring-rat/limo driver Lenny Long and Garland’s right-hand man, Ricky Plick, move out of the shadows in the second outing, with both playing crucial roles as Garland’s life and empire crumble around him.
All of which sets the stage for the sledgehammer final book in the trilogy, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 3, which finds the formerly gritty world of ‘60s/’70s wrestling giving way to the neon spandex, face paint, and baby oiled bodies of the flashy 1980s. Twelve years have passed since the climactic events that ended the previous entry, twelve years that saw Lenny Long doing the ultimate slow burn in prison, waiting for his chance to settle scores and make his own power play.
Old habits die hard, however, and the remaining territory bosses have no plans to roll over and go gentle into that good night. And while it’s Lenny’s ultimate goal to be shed of “the life” once and for all, in order to do so he will first have to get back in it up to his eyes and make some bold and dangerous moves, moves that could get him taken off the board for good should he miscalculate or misstep.
And just as Lenny and Ricky stepped out of the shadows in the second book, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 3 finds a “throwaway” character from the previous book, World Heavyweight Champion Babu, playing not only a crucial role, but one with a surprising level of grace and intelligence given the brief glimpse we’d previously had of him “in character” as Heavyweight Champ. In fact, author Paul O’Brien excels in giving his characters dignity and depth across the board, exploring several subjects one wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in a crime story set in the world of professional wrestling.
In particular, O’Brien uses Ricky Plick and his partner, Ginny, to tremendous effect. Ricky, once at the top of the heap as a wrestler, is now physically broken down, yesterday’s news and forced to work brutal matches in “exile” in Japan just to pay the bills:
Ricky’s matches weren’t about headlocks, body slams, or suplexes, but about barbed wire, blood, and sharp objects. His old body couldn’t go sixty minutes anymore, but it could bleed with the best of them, and that’s what it did to pay the bills: bleed
Far from treating Ricky as a pathetic has-been struggling to hold on to former glory, however, O’Brien boldly expands upon the previously only touched upon relationship between Ricky and Ginny, one which is powerful both because of its homosexual nature—the ‘60s/’70s world of pro wrestling was not exactly a welcoming environment for gays—as well as for Ginny’s declining mental status and need for supervised care, which is the reason Ricky keeps pushing his body beyond its limits and bleeding half a world away: to pay for Ginny’s care.
O’Brien also gives Lenny an interesting hurdle to overcome, beyond just that of his cutthroat fellow owners. While he was in prison, it turns out Lenny’s oldest son decided to take up the family business and venture into the wrestling world. It’s a situation that gives Lenny added incentive to wrap things up, but which also gives his competitors—and the in-ring thugs they have at their command—unique leverage as well.
Before all’s said and done, Lenny will have to pull off the biggest con in the history of a business founded upon them, and aging veteran Ricky will have to show the young pups that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks… and that it’s never over until the final three count.
Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 3 is available at Amazon (ISBN: 978-1502440327).