Duffy Dombrowski is an Irish-Polish-American part-time boxer, full-time social worker. At least for the time being he's a full-time social worker. His boss, the "Michelin Woman," has her heart set on firing Duffy, and she's just waiting for him to give her the excuse to do so.
When Kelley, Duffy's cop buddy, calls him to help with an arrest of one of Duffy's clients, the fun begins. Walanda is a schizophrenic, drug abuser and as she is being hauled off by Kelley, she's pleading with Duffy to do two things. First, save her stepdaughter who's been kidnapped by the "Webster" and second, take care of her Muslim basset hound, Allah-King. Duffy agrees to both requests and they both lead him into a mess of trouble, especially after Walanda is murdered in jail.
In the most basic terms I can use, ON THE ROPES is plain and simply FUN...FUN, FUN, FUN! What else would you expect with a cast of characters that includes a Muslim basset hound, an old Jewish man who has "enough money to air condition hell," and the Fearsome Foursome who reminded me of a cross between a male version of the Golden Girls and the crew who hung out at the bar on Cheers? The characters that inhabit this book are colorful and unique, emphasizing what I believe was a major theme in Schreck's book - everyone is special and has a purpose, regardless of society's prejudices.
For some reason, in this book I became acutely aware of the power of a stereotypical character. Schreck has stereotypes in this book, especially his ex-girlfriends, but he balances those stereotypes with more dimensional characters. The reader can't help but remember that stereotypes exist for a reason. I don't think a stereotype would work as a protagonist, and Duffy is anything but a stereotype. Schreck does an outstanding job of making stereotypes work effectively in this novel.
Schreck's protagonist, Duffy Dombroski, is constantly managing to step into trouble, despite his good intentions. There were a few times that I, as a female, was taken aback by his testosterone-laden comments, but I also realized that those comments were probably spot on for boxing, locker-room talk. And Schreck should know, since he is a professional boxing judge. What was striking about Duffy, besides his wonderful wit, was his sincerity and devotion. I have to admit that I also appreciated his love of Elvis.
And of course there's Al, the Muslim basset hound. Al provides comic relief at all the right times, as any dog owner will appreciate. Al chews up Duffy's remote control and unless he manually changes the channel, the TV is stuck eternally on the Lifetime channel. Oh the irony! It's wonderful.
The characters really drive the plot in this book. It's a great plot, but if the reader is unable to engage with the characters, I don't think the plot is quite as strong. The plot is also very heavy, so the characters and their humor help the reader manage that weight and see hope. All in all, Schreck did an outstanding job of balancing the seriousness of his content with the lightness of the humor as well as the dynamics of the characters. The entire book works like a well-oiled machine.
As I was moving closer to the end of the novel I became very frustrated with interruptions in my reading. I simply wanted to keep reading. This is a book that you'll find hard to put down until you've reached the final page. And when you do put it down, I would be willing to bet you'll put it down with, at minimum, a sly grin on your face.
Just an outstanding debut!