Penzler Pick, January 2002: This debut mystery is by an author who already has a claim on the hearts of his audience: he produced two splendid works of nonfiction that are must-haves for every mystery lover's library, Dark City Dames
and Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir
. Both take readers down new paths into a familiar, haunting landscape--that of the 1940s and '50s films that brought such a paradoxical blend of artifice and authenticity to the small, claustrophobic world of crime. As the son of a West Coast boxing writer, Muller is writing from strength when he makes his protagonist, Billy Nichols, a newspaper boxing columnist who easily keeps pace with the mugs and thugs he covers. The setting is post-World War II San Francisco and Nichols is a journalist who pounds out his stories, stopping only afterward to ask the right questions. His relationship to the heavyweight Hack Escalante takes a startling turn early in the story as Billy finds himself an accessory to a crime that it seems Hack has just committed. Gig Liardi, Hack's manager, is lying dead on the floor of his apartment, less than a half-hour after summoning Billy over for a scoop, and Hack's knuckles are bloody, though his eyes are wet. "This boy should never have been a fighter," Billy thinks, watching him. "Now he was a killer. A couple of his tears dropped on Gig's face." Even if prizefighters do cry, this scene is still only one high point in a tough, vivid re-creation of a lost era of urban sports history that swaggers on for almost 40 more chapters. More mystery novels featuring "Mr. Boxing," as Billy Nichols is known, will certainly be welcome by mystery fans, but come early to the series now and get a ringside seat! --Otto Penzler
From Publishers Weekly
In his first crime novel, Muller gives an authentic if depressing view of San Francisco's downtrodden neighborhoods in the late '40s, when boxing was the way to fame and fortune. Billy Nichols, sportswriter for Hearst's Inquirer (aka "Mr. Boxing"), knows something is wrong when he finds promoter Gig Liardi's apartment door cracked open. Inside is rising fight star Hack Escalante, who has just beaten his manager to death for some unexplained insult to his wife. With the crime and the criminal apparently known at the outset, the two "go the distance" together and bury Liardi's body in Golden Gate Park. Nichols then shields his young protg from the police until the final championship bout. Det. Francis O'Connor works slowly and deliberately, while we meet numerous minor characters from the "fistic fraternity," most with little connection to the case. There is romance, graphically described, when Nichols has an affair with Escalante's wife during the young boxer's brief Navy stint. Muller knows Frisco's boxing scene well, and takes us through seedy arenas and nightclubs as his narrator (and maybe the reader) get "lost in the circuit" of unsavory bookmakers, gamblers and politicians exploiting young men eager to be written up in Nichols's columns, excerpts of which are interspersed between chapters. Those with an interest in boxing and a desire to know better the grim ambiance of the ring and locker room will be intrigued, but for others, the technical terms and sleazy characters in this sordid underworld may be too much to fathom. (Jan. 18)City: The Lost World of Film Noir, among other noir-related titles.Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.