The Vegas Knockout is the second of Tom Schreck’s books I’ve read. I picked up a copy of TKO after hearing him speak at the Indianapolis Bouchercon and liked it enough to give him another try. Nice work, me.
The Vegas Knockout is another tale of never-was fighter Duffy Dombrowski and his basset hound, Max. Duffy’s alleged “real” job is as a social worker. That gig often interferes with his love of boxing. When the two butt heads, boxing wins. So, when Duffy is offered a chance for a couple of weeks’ work as a sparring partner for heavyweight contender Boris Rusakov—in Vegas, no less—he’ll do whatever he has to do to make it look as though he’s in a training class when he’s really in Vegas getting his ass kicked.
Vegas isn’t quite what Duffy expected. First, he has to find a way to get Max on a plane without loading him into baggage. (I’d tell you why, but that ruins a fun elements of the book, so read it and find out for yourself.). His accommodations are also not quite what he expected, though he gets over it. (Details omitted for the same reason as above. I don’t like to risk spoiling anything in a review.) He is able to coax his New York drinking buddies to come out. That has its fair share of surprises, too.
The plot is complex enough to hold your attention without becoming confusing. Some elements require a little more suspension of disbelief than I am accustomed to, but Schreck is aiming for a tone closer to Donald Westlake than to Richard Stark. Duffy is an engaging character. Funny, a loyal friend, not quite as bright as it would pay him to be. Max is a force of nature. Together, they create memorable scenes.
The scenes in the boxing gym are what make The Vegas Knockout stand apart. Schreck works sometimes as a boxing referee and knows how things work. He’s able to show all the warts and still not make Duffy’s love of boxing seem foolish. Duffy knows this sparring gig may be the pinnacle of his career. To many he’d seem a failure. To him, he has rubbed elbows and shared a ring with some of the best in the world. He understands the camaraderie of the gym in a way no one from the outside can fully appreciate, and will have the memories forever. That’s enough.
The Vegas Knockout is a funny book, full of engaging characters that cover the spectrum of human likeability. What makes it more than a piece of fluff is how Schreck uses Duffy’s love of boxing to stand in for any devotion truly held. Duffy is a success because everyone should have an opportunity to love something as much as he loves boxing, and the maturity to understand it’s okay if it doesn’t always love you back. Duffy’s success is in his journey, just as the greatest fun in The Vegas Knockout is in the reading.