THE pantheon of boxing literature is unequalled. No other sport has inspired so much writing of genius. King Of The World, Dark Trade, Ghosts Of Manila, Night Train, Only In America, This Bloody Mary Is The Last Thing I Own, The Tao Of Muhammad Ali, The Fight, Unforgivable Blackness: every one of them a masterpiece.
And they are all true stories. With the exception of FX O'Toole's quirky set of short stories Rope Burns, boxing writing doesn't move outside the retelling of real events, real men. But then it doesn't need to because by its very nature the sport of boxing is inhabited by men of huge character, personalities on the edge. Throw in the fact that the sport has traditionally been the gateway out of the ghetto, and is the conduit for the poor and desperate, while also the haunt of the shady and predatory, and the potential for unbeatable storylines is almost unlimited.
Jon Hotten's The Years Of The Locust stands proud in the tradition of great boxing writing. Yet rather than focus on the big household names as virtually all of the classics do, he follows up his two previous books on sport's shady hinterland (the bodybuilding epic Muscle, and Unlicensed, about boxing's illegal underbelly) by choosing a more offbeat tale. This is a true story, but one that focuses on two of boxing's bit players, two very different men who try to make their way in a crazy sport in the mid-nineties against the backdrop of George Foreman's comeback.
This is the tragic tale of sociopathic door-to-door salesman turned boxing promoter Rick 'Elvis' Parker and his doomed relationship with loyal, naive and ultimately incorruptible fighter Tim Anderson. Parker is a freakishly fat ginger-haired giant with a southern lilt who wants to become the next Don King. He cuts corners, lies, cheats and fixes fights; he's a man who wouldn't know a moral compass if one hit him between the eyes.
His boxer Anderson is a handsome, funny former baseball pro who dreams of being the heavyweight champion of the world. But they are a toxic combination that should never have mixed. The results of their collaboration are a train crash: Parker in the mortuary and Anderson doing life without parole in a state prison.
This is an utterly extraordinary tale that is expertly woven by Hotten, who has the benefit of unfettered access to Parker's family, police files and a five-year correspondence with Anderson. At times his self-consciously syncopated writing style and decision to write in the present tense grate but that is a minor quibble to set against a book that is a compelling glimpse inside the mad world of boxing in America and a wry examination of chance choices and remorse.
The sleeve notes say that this book is "scary, sad and bleakly, blackly funny", and for once they're right.