Luke G. Williams reviews Carlos Acevedo’s compelling biography of tragic heavyweight hero Tommy Morrison…
Before this review gets into gear, full disclosure is necessary. I’ve previously written a book about Ike Ibeabuchi for Hamilcar – publishers of Carlos Acevedo’s ‘The Duke’, although I’ve never spoken to or corresponded with Acevedo himself.
Hamilcar specialise in boxing but have recently also branched out into music and true crime titles too. ‘The Duke’, which incorporates boxing, crime and – to an extent – music (Morrison was a huge Elvis fan) – is therefore, in many respects, a typical Hamilcar title, focusing as it does on a turbulent, controversial and tragic character from the sport’s past (Johnny Tapia, Carlos Monzon, Arturo Gatti, Oscar Bonavena and, yes, the aforementioned Ibeabuchi are among the subjects of other Hamilcar titles).
‘The Duke’ possesses myriad virtues. As one has come to expect from Acevedo, the writing is full of impressive stylistic flourishes, the prose frequently crackling and fizzing, without lapsing into self-consciousness or pretentiousness.
The first paragraph of the book provides a superb sample of Acevedo at his best, and gives a good idea of the tone and tenor of the book as a whole:
“There was pathos, yes, but there was another kind of darkness, the wayward American Dream kind, on switchback roads, through knotweed fields, hard by a Quick Stop or Sonic. Under a black and starless sky. Something like that. Why not? After all, Tommy Morrison was trouble young. Hell, maybe he was born with a shiner.”
The portrait Acevedo draws of Morrison is bleak, but comprehensive and well-balanced. The pacing of the book is superlative, short sections within the three parts drawing the reader in and making it well nigh impossible to put the book down. The book also packs an emotional punch as heavy as one of Morrison’s famed left hooks.
Acevedo’s archival research is rock solid and impressively deep. If I have one quibble it is with the low number of interviews he has conducted for the book – just three, according to his own sources section. Acevedo’s explanation is that “because so many of his acquaintances (including family members, professional contacts, and ex-lovers) were of a similar disreputable background, it was difficult to get anyone to talk about Morrison”.
Fair enough, but it would have been interesting to hear new, fresh and exclusive insights from a wide range of those people involved in Morrison’s life, particularly now that we are nearly a decade removed from his death.
This caveat aside, however, ‘The Duke’ is an enjoyable and compelling read and I doubt any other boxing literature released this year will match or surpass it.