Shadow Boxer

Written by Eddie Muller
Review by Steve Lewis

There’s only one thing wrong with this throwback to the 1940s era of sports-based pulp fiction. Well, make it two. While Billy Nichols, who tells the story, is a crack San Francisco sportswriter nicknamed Mr. Boxing, there is not much in this book about either boxers or the fight game. What it’s really about is the continuation of the murder case begun in Muller’s first novel, The Distance. It may be that the man Nichols brought to justice in the early book is not entirely guilty. The dead woman was the wife of boxer Hack Escalante, and not so incidentally she was the also the one Nichols was having a secret affair with.

It’s a complicated tale, and if this is a new trend in detective fiction, it ought to stop right now. Without having read the first book, it’s impossible to know exactly who is who, and why or why not, and to whom. As detective fiction, it’s spinach, and I hate spinach.

As a writer of historical fiction, Muller has San Francisco and its seedy (and not-so-seedy) environs down cold. As a writer of hard-boiled pulp fiction, Muller certainly gives you your full money’s worth. Or even double, considering Nichols’ single paragraph longer-than-one-page rant on pages 152-153. Boiled down, it’s a long improvised version, with several choruses, of the old adage, No good deed ever goes unpunished.

It’s a classic piece, verging on Raymond Chandler territory, and while better than average, the story surrounding it is missing a vital ingredient, a self-contained coherency. It’s too bad. It could have been a contender.