UNDERCARD, a debut novel by David Albertyn, follows the lives of four old friends who reunite in Las Vegas and, over 24 hours, have their lives completely upended. Slightly noirish and set against the backdrop of the War on Terror, Black Lives Matter, Las Vegas corruption, and professional boxing, it’s a powerfully written, in-your-face read. It’s missing a strong moral that makes noirish fiction work–at least I missed it–but overall I liked it as a simple story that packs a punch.
The novel focuses on four people who grew up in Sin City. There’s Antoine, a professional boxer three years out of prison with a personal vendetta; Tyron, a Marine returning home after a decade of war overseas; Keenan, a cop who shot an unarmed teenager and is the subject of BLM protests; and Naomi, a professional basketball player retired to turn coach, loved by each of them. Tonight, Antoine will fight a renowned boxer, a prizefight he must win to earn his name and possibly his vengeance, which will set them each on a path to right old wrongs and hopefully survive.
The writing has a nice energy to it, a hard noirish tone, and heavily developed characters, each of whom is flawed but likeable and somewhat larger than life due to their rich (if a little improbable in combination) backgrounds. The violence and passion of the prizefight serves as the novel’s centerpiece that ties the old friends back together, and it’s delivered with a terrific power. The ending brings it all home nicely, though after the fight the novel loses some energy and never regains it, not even in the climax, and I was left wondering what the point was in bringing all the backdrop issues–BLM, War on Terror, etc.–into the story other than purely to flavor and titillate.
Overall, I liked UNDERCARD a lot. It’s a fun read that delivers a solid punch for its strong characters and style.