Farrar, Straus and Giroux, PB, $15.00, 240 pages, ISBN 978-0-374-53289-5
Have you ever heard of a place in Ireland called Donnybrook? It’s an area just outside of Dublin, and the site of the legendary Donnybrook Fair. A charter for it was given in the early thirteenth century and it was held annually over the next six hundred years during August and September for fourteen days. It was fourteen days of drinking, brawling, and public spectacles. The Donnybrook Fair became so infamous for bad behavior that it was bought out and permanently closed in 1855 by the Lord Mayor of Dublin . . . and left its name as a legacy to the English language as the definition for a brawl, or “a scene of uproar and disorder.”
Donnybrook, by Frank Bill is a crime fiction novel about an annual bare-knuckles brawl in the backwoods of southern Indiana. It’s a three-day affair held on a thousand acre remote farm that pays a hundred thousand dollars to win . . . and nothing to the losers. It’s held in a place that’s been devastated by the recession, where unemployment is high and still rising, as is crime and drug usage, in particular methamphetamines. Called meth, crank, speed, or crystal, it’s snorted, injected, swallowed or smoked. It’s the drug of choice, along with marijuana and alcohol, for the impoverished and downtrodden residents of the area. With no other prospects or hope of improvement, the Donnybrook attracts the toughest of the tough and desperate residents who inhabit the coal mining regions. Men like Jarhead Johnny and Chainsaw Angus and his sister . . . men with nothing to lose. Men for whom the one thousand dollar entry fee is an almost insurmountable burden . . . and only the first hurdle to overcome in their quest for the big money prize and a quick exit from poverty. The journey to get there is awesome, the action relentless and the characters remarkable. They’re a part of America as tough and hard to manage as the anthracite coal they mine. This one is a helluva ride from the first page to the last. If you like ‘em hairy chested and tough, with language and manners to match, this one’s for you. Not for the faint of heart however . . . it’s one’s as rugged as the hardie hole in a two hundred pound anvil. I loved it. But then too, I’ve always been a fan of Clint’s characters in the movies.