Wednesday, February 4, 2009

ON THE ROPES - Tom Schreck

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!


Corey Wilde February 4, 2009 at 8:17 AM  

I'll add this one to my list, but man, it's a long list.

Jonathan E. Quist February 4, 2009 at 8:36 AM  

By all means, Corey, add this, and Schreck's second in the series, TKO.

Tom also has several free short stories, including one in audio form, on his web site. I reviewed the latter a while back:

Jen is right about the testosterone - the violence is a bit strong in parts. But by the time Duffy starts throwing punches, I found that I was wishing he'd do just that.

So add it to your list, but be prepared to read the second when you set down the first.

Debbie February 4, 2009 at 8:46 AM've hooked me. I'll have to check it out. And I have a basset hound...Monroe, so how could I resist.

Serena February 4, 2009 at 9:32 AM  

Hmm, I wonder if these stereotypes would distract me. Perhaps not...thanks for a well-written review.

Jen February 4, 2009 at 8:19 PM  

Serena, stereotypes usually irritate me in books. I've commented on them before. But in this case, I noticed them, but I noticed them because they were effectively used. At least in my opinion they were.

Hope you all enjoy the book! Let me know!

le0pard13 February 6, 2009 at 5:57 PM  

Nice review. Sadly though, this is another one of those great sounding books that hasn't been published to audiobook :-\

  © Blogger templates 'Neuronic' by 2008

Back to TOP