The Killings of Stanley Ketchel: A Novel

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9780060554361: The Killings of Stanley Ketchel: A Novel

Hailed as "one of the greatest chroniclers of the mythical American outlaw life" (Entertainment Weekly), James Carlos Blake now turns to the blazing story of Stanley Ketchel, the ragtime-era middleweight boxing champion and daring rakehell whose brief and meteoric life burned with violence and tragedy in and out of the ring. Fierce and tender, sexy and funny, vast in setting and rich in historical detail, The Killings of Stanley Ketchel is Blake at his robust and lyrical best.

In 1903 seventeen-year-old Ketchel makes a violent break from his father and flees his family's Michigan farm to ride the rails as a hobo, brawling with tramps and brakemen and cops. He finds a home among the hard-living mine workers and seductive ladies in one of the last wild towns of the old west -- Butte, Montana -- where he falls in love with a free-spirited woman who will haunt his heart forever.

But Ketchel also discovers his true calling in Butte: cracking skulls as a saloon bouncer leads him to prizefighting, a bloodsport barely hindered by rules in that day. Despite his lack of formal training as a boxer, his ferocious and unbridled style quickly earns him a reputation as the "Michigan Assassin." He soon outclasses every middleweight in the West and, shortly thereafter, the world -- winning the middleweight title in 1908.

Only the reigning heavyweight champion, fearsome Jack Johnson, rivals Ketchel's claim to be the greatest boxer of the era. The first black to hold the world title and one of the most controversial figures of the time, Johnson becomes Ketchel's obsession. Driven to prove himself the best, Ketchel challenges Johnson to a title fight -- even though the "Galveston Giant" has an advantage on him of forty pounds and several inches. Their match is one of boxing's most memorable dramas and leads to a unique bond between the two men. But its outcome also sets Ketchel on a willful and tragic course.

Steeped in the sweat and blood of the life of a legend, The Killings of Stanley Ketchel is a sweeping and powerful literary adventure by one of our most daring novelists.

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About the Author:

James Carlos Blake is the author of nine novels. Among his literary honors are the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Southwest Book Award, Quarterly West Novella Prize, and Chautauqua South Book Award. He lives in Arizona.

From Publishers Weekly:

The short, brutish life of Stanley Ketchel, the middleweight champion of the ragtime era who ruled the ring until his murder at age 24, serves as inspiration for Blake's action-packed new novel (after Handsome Harry). Blake follows Ketchel's career as he runs away from a loveless, violent farm home at age 15, "rides the rods" with the hoboes to Butte, Mont., where he first steps in the ring, and then goes pro in San Francisco. When Jack Johnson becomes heavyweight champ, the nation goes mad, and none more so than Ketchel, who itches to vanquish the confident black pugilist in a rematch. From Gibson Girl Evelyn Nesbitt, who enjoys a passionate liaison with Ketchel, to Emmett Dalton, last of the old-time outlaws, Blake brings to life a huge cast of characters across a glittering, vital America. The author writes with a loopy narrative drive, equal parts Dos Passos and Doctorow, suggesting vaguely that Ketchel's rage and murderous passions were at least in part inspired by a nostalgia for the Old West he had missed by a mere decade. Though the liberal embellishments of sex and violence can sometimes tip the book into weary cliché, Blake has spun a fascinating tale. (Aug.)
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