Book Review: Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Vol. 1 By Paul O’Brien
Written by Brandon Williams
Blood Red Turns Dollar Green by Paul O’Brien is a marriage between wrestling and literature that has never been seen before. And after Mick Foley put out Have a Nice Day in 1999 and it became a New York Times Bestseller, wrestling books started coming out the woodwork due to the fact that publishers realized that wrestling fans could actually read (and presumably, marry their cousins). Speaking of Foley, his recommendation of Blood Red Turns Dollar Green is what brought it to the attention of many wrestling fans and helped make it the #1 wrestling book on Amazon.
Around the same time as Foley had his success with Have a Nice Day, the internet was blossoming. What was once a business kept as secret as the formula to Coca-Cola and later exposed in the “dirt sheets” (wrestling pejorative for “newsletter”) was now readily available to anyone for free.
To many, this was equally (if not more) fascinating than what actually happened in a wrestling ring. The behind-the-scenes dealings of who is getting pushed, who’s turning babyface or heel, who has backstage heat and so on were once kept under lock and key from the public and now was rapidly becoming accessible to anyone who wanted to know.
Blood Red Turns Dollar Green is a wrestling novel, but it’s not about what happens in the squared circle. Set in the late sixties and early seventies, Paul O’Brien takes you back to a time where if people didn’t believe wrestling was everything it appeared to be, they certainly wanted to. The wrestling business was controlled by a sanctioning body called the National Wrestling Alliance (which is represented in the book by the National Wrestling Council) that oversaw all of the various territories, but each territory was its own independent business. Each territory had its own roster. The NWA controlled the world championship and had a committee in order to determine who got the championship. The champion would tour around the world, but much of the time the champion would appear for his own territory, which was the incentive for each promoter to have the champion in his (or her, in some cases) territory.
Danno Garland is the promoter of the New York wrestling territory. In many ways, the character seems to be modelled after Vince McMahon, Jr. Like Vince, he is based in New York (although he resides in Connecticut), his father was a promoter who didn’t want to hand the business down to his son, he is Irish or Irish-American and he has dreams larger than simply running the Northeast wrestling outfit. With that said, O’Brien didn’t simply write Vince McMahon into his novel and then change his name. For instance, Garland is not exactly a physical specimen, but the similarities are still there and in many cases, quite obvious.
Like Danno Garland, Proctor King is a wrestling promoter. He runs the Florida territory. Unlike Garland, he got into the business through being a wrestler. Much the same as many of the wrestling promoters back in the territorial era of professional wrestling, Proctor King’s legacy is to be carried on with his son, Gilbert. And because Proctor never won the world title, his goal is to get the belt on his son. Not only does it mean that he can live vicariously through his son, but also he gets to make more money when the title is in his territory. It’s very possible that the author drew from many different sources on Proctor King, as probably three-quarters of the old school wrestling promoters had a son they wanted to put the “strap” on. Now, none of them went to the same type of lengths that Proctor King was willing to in order to get the title onto Gilbert, but that’s something that separates fiction from reality. There were some sketchy elements of the wrestling business during this time and there was a “mob-like” mentality within the NWA, but the extent of it was blackballing a party from the business when the party wasn’t playing by their rules.
Lenny Long is the underdog character. He isn’t a wrestler and couldn’t be one if he tried. However, he has a dream. It isn’t a lofty dream; he just wants to be a wrestling ring in order to perform for a crowd – just one time. In order to live out this dream, he can’t just go to Garland and ask him for a job. He has to work his way up the ladder slowly. He has to gain the trust of everyone in the business before they will even admit that it’s work. At the same time as he’s trying to get accepted into the wrestling “family,” he is trying to build a family of his own. O’Brien did the wrestling family mentality justice by demonstrating just what can happen when the wrestling family becomes to take away from the real-life family.
Between these three characters, they all have their own motivations. In reading the book, it is very clear who wants what and what they’ll do in order to get – or keep – it. With that comes an unhealthy dose of mistrust, uneasy alliances and laws broken like bones in the ring.
What stood out to me about the novel was the amount of research that went in. I consider myself to be very knowledgeable about wrestling, but I had only a few days previous heard a story about Jim Ross working as a driver making a few cents per mile in order to make a few extra bucks during his Mid-South days. I picked up this novel and right there, I read about Lenny Long driving the wrestlers around from town to town for a living. That’s just one example of something that most wrestling fans would likely not know.
If I had to nitpick and mention one criticism of the book, it would be that although the story is set in New York and other parts of the States, some of the author’s Irish slang is evident in the dialogue. It’s not even that prevalent, but enough that I noticed it. Also, a quick warning to anyone who feels uncomfortable with bad language – there’s lots of it to be found here. It’s a wrestling crime novel, so it comes with the territory.
For any wrestling fan like myself who is enthralled by the inner-workings of the business, Paul O’Brien’s debut novel is a must-read. The topic is something that has never been written about before in the novel format, which is also why I think a fan of crime fiction novels will be able to get into it too because it’s an area that most have never read about. So if you fall into either category of wrestling fan or reader of crime fiction, you will surely enjoy Blood Red Turns Dollar Green. You can purchase it from Amazon in paperback format or get the Kindle edition for only $3.99! Personally, I am looking forward to reading Vol. 2!