Latest Flash

Review of Frank Bill's Donnybrook

By Gabino Iglesias

Frank Bill made serious waves in the literary world with Crimes in Southern Indiana, his short story collection. Now the same is happening with his upcoming debut novel, Donnybrook, which will be released in early March. Given Bill's outstanding mixture of violence, fast-paced prose, interesting characters and situations, and non-stop action, the buzz should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his writing. For those who've never read him, the time to start is now.

The novel follows a cast of characters as they head to the Donnybrook, a three-day bare-knuckle tournament held by a mobster on a thousand-acre plot somewhere in the boonies of southern Indiana. After the blood dries, whoever is left standing walks home with twenty grand. Fighting for the prize will be twenty fighters with nothing to lose. One of these men is one of the characters the narrative follows, Jarhead, the toughest fighter in southeastern Kentucky and a father of two who wants put food on the table and offer his family a better life. Then there’s Chainsaw Angus, an undefeated fighter who's now retired and making a living cooking and selling meth with his sister and business partner Liz. These individuals will cross paths with each other and with a few other characters that embody danger, evil, and violence. Before anyone reaches the Donnybrook, they'll have to survive a lot of backstabbing and plenty of mayhem, death, and bloodshed.

The first thing that makes Donnybrook a must-read is Bill's stripped-down prose. There is a lot in the novel, but the author tells it with as few words as possible. Every sentence Bill writes resembles one of the fighters in the story: the fat and gristle have been stripped away, leaving only the muscle, anger, and bones. The result is a punchy, streamlined narrative that grabs the reader, stomps on the accelerator, and never lets go. If you can imagine a movie written by Ken Bruen and James Ellroy and directed by Guy Ritchie, with him putting a strong emphasis on his preferred, raucous, fast editing, you'll get a sense of the brutality and chaos that are packed into this story.

Besides the prose, the characters are the second element that makes this a recommended read. Jarhead and Angus are only the tip of the iceberg. A long list of broken fighters, junkies, dealers, cops, and petty criminals help keep things interesting. For example, a man named Fu, who's an expert in martial arts, infuses the narrative with a bit of flare and mysticism. The diversity is interesting and plethora of converging storylines makes for an engaging, rich read.

Everyone in Donnybrook is a loser in some sense. Everyone is out top get something, kill someone, or get a fix. There's a bag full of money and meth, plenty of guns, and enough bad intentions to fill three novels. However, the fact that these elements are just part of the story is a testament to Bill's talent. Donnybrook is about being down but not out. It is also a story about honor, vengeance, drugs, family, violence, sex, death, and breaking bones with your bare hands. Anyone looking for an volatile, wonderfully aggressive novel should definitely check this one out.

Gabino Iglesias resides in Texas and is the author of Gutmouth.