Part 1 of a Double Shot. See Keith Nixon's review of the same book this afternoon.
Reviewed by: Ryan Bracha
Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words
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Gerard Brennan lives in Northern Ireland with his family and is currently studying for an MA in creative writing at Belfast University. Gerard has previously published several other works including the novel, Wee Rockets, a novella, The Point and contributed to a number of anthologies.
You can learn more about Gerard on his website.
Mickey ‘The Rage’ Rafferty is a bare knuckle fighter taking on unlicensed, underground fights to feed his family. However his trainer, Eddie Smith, thinks he’s better than that. Enter Swifty, a man with fantastic training facilities and money to spend on getting Mickey to the top – but at a price.
Welcome to the Octagon is a story that I entered with a mixture of anticipation and doubt. Anticipation because of the author, Gerard Brennan, whose previous works stand amongst my favourite discoveries this year, and is fast becoming an author whose work I'll look forward to for a long time to come. His big challenge then, comes in the form of my doubt, which was the subject matter. Good sports stories, be they cinematic or printed, are few and far between as far as I'm concerned, and will often fall into clichés as worn as a hobo's socks, regurgitated across tales of victory over adversity. As a man who reads for pleasure, then, the tale of an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter who's not so much a has been, and more of a never been, would usually be the last thing I would pick up for a bit of light reading. This isn't my autobiography though, I just wanted to give you an idea of how difficult it would be for an author to get a thumbs up from me for a sports tome.
The story of Mickey 'The Rage' Rafferty, the recovering alcoholic widower struggling to cater for the needs of his smarter-than-her-years young daughter by taking part in illegal bare knuckle fights is one which took me by surprise. Mickey's defeatist attitude consumes him, despite the fact that he's winning in the ring, and that the people around him have no end of belief in his talent. His refusal to accept that he's worth anything more is what holds him back, and it's only when the slimy and mysterious ‘Swifty’ appears with seemingly golden promises backed up by hard cash do his aims begin to get higher, as the morals of those he associates with go lower.
The story does, aside from graphic and extremely well painted fight scenes, focus more on a man whose self-perception is so tainted by pessimism, but will do anything it takes to provide for his daughter, and the internal dialogue of Rafferty does a very good job of drawing sympathy from this reader. The dialogue between his characters has the trademark Brennan believability to it, and his enthusiasm for the subject matter shines like a light right the way through it, so much so that it's difficult not to get carried away in the emotion when the people that Mickey has alienated on more than one occasion return to save him from himself.
So it's one-nil to Gerard Brennan. I actually tried to not enjoy this, but once again with charm and wit, he's won. An excellent short read, recommended.
Welcome to the Octagon is published as part of the Fight Card series, all of which are issued under the pen name of Jack Tunney.
Rating: **** Four Stars