This astonishing book establishes Mark Kriegel as one of the great boxing writers. A meticulous work of reportage and analysis, it stands along with the best of A.J. Liebling and Hugh Mcilvanney - but, as a piece of storytelling, it also stands along with the novels of Leonard Gardner, W.C. Heinz and Eddie Muller.
Presented as a biography of Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, the ferocious World Lightweight Champion of the first half of the 1980s, The Good Son is also a history of boxing in the U.S., and of the Ohio working class. It is a story of love, marriage, friendship, ego, fear, loss and redemption. If this sounds epic, it is - and yet it is not a long book. I can think of no other book so packed with information that is such an easy read. For the two days that it took me to read it, I resented every brief conversation that took me away from it.
There are some shocking revelations, too; promoter Bob Arum not only frankly reveals the sport’s corruption (which is far worse nowadays) - he gives the exact figures that had to be paid in bribes to make things happen. Even more shocking is the evidence Kriegel presents to suggest that Richard Greene, who refereed the fight between Mancini and Duk-Koo Kim in which Kim was killed, did not commit suicide a few months later out of guilt or grief, but is more likely to have been murdered.
Kriegel is so precise in his reporting that I could spot only one (possible) error; Mancini is introduced to a well-known actor, who later complains that Mancini was so aloof and so full of himself that he shook hands disdainfully with his fingertips. While this might indeed have been intended as a slight, it seems that neither the actor nor Kriegel are aware that top-level boxers are often protective of their hands, on which they depend so much, and tend to avoid conventional handshakes, opting instead for light fist-bumps, hugs or quick squeezes with the fingertips.
But, aside from that, Kriegel gets everything right. He seems to be somewhat fixated on relationships between fathers and sons, the focus of his previous books, which I have not read. In this one, he beautifully renders the influence of Mancini’s father, Lenny, also a boxer, also nicknamed “Boom Boom,” on his son, and of the brain damage caused to both men by the punches they took, without ever becoming maudlin.