I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Rencor: Life in Grudge City by Matt Wallace
Published by From Parts Unknown on July 15 2016
Buy on Amazon
The nitty-gritty: A big, raucous tale of masked wrestlers and crime fighters, steeped in family tradition, with all the humor you’d expect from Matt Wallace.
“You don’t know anything about being a villain. You’re just a bad guy.”
I’m a huge fan of Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour series, so when the author asked me if I’d like to read his latest from Mexican wrestling pop culture purveyors From Parts Unknown, my answer was an immediate “Hell yes!” Even though the story revolves around two rival families of luchadores, Mexican wrestlers, and I’m the type to run screaming from a room when any discussion of sports comes up, I immediately found myself sucked into Wallace’s hysterically funny and surprisingly emotional story (and yes, fascinated by the luchadores/monster movie subculture). Any Angel fans out there? Rencor: Life in Grudge City reminded me of the Season Five episode The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco, which also tackles the Mexican wrestling culture. Matt Wallace has taken his personal experience in wrestling and created a layered story about two multi-generational luchadores families, the Victors and the Calaveras, whose bitter rivalry must be set aside in order to bring down a common foe. Even though the story itself didn’t quite grab me like Wallace’s other books, I was surprised how much I connected with two families of macho wrestlers who never take off their masks.
Ten years ago, Victor III defeated his rival Calaveras III in the infamous “Loser-Leaves-Town” match, in the town of Rencor, a city steeped in lucha libre traditions. Since then, the old ways have started to die off, and the days of the enmascarado heroes who helped rid the city of crime have come to an end. But when someone breaks into the Egyptian wing of the local museum and raids a sarcophagus, private investigator Gus calls on Victor to help him solve the crime. Little does Victor know that Calaveras has been asked by the FBI to join the investigation, and that after ten long years, their paths are about to cross once more.
A slouching figure wrapped in dirty rags has been seen shambling around the city. Could it be the mummy from the sarcophagus? In order to solve the mystery, Victor and Cal will have to join forces—at least temporarily—and use all their wrestling skills to find out who is behind the museum heist.
Fans of Matt Wallace will love his trademark humor and hysterically funny dialog. I have to admit I was a bit underwhelmed by the story of a museum robbery, which seems tame compared to a lot of the fiction I’ve been reading lately. But what really makes this story special are the characters. I’m not sure how the author made me, a die-hard loather of sports, fall for a bunch of burly, mask-wearing, hard-drinking Mexican wrestlers, but he did. Such is the magic of a talented writer. Part of the charm of the characters is that three generations of men—grandfathers, fathers and sons—have continued the family tradition through the years. The rivalry between the Victors and the Calaveras is legendary, and the citizens of Rencor have watched their thrilling matches for years.
Some of my favorite parts of the book were the descriptions of the elder wrestlers who, back in the day, made monster movies for their fans, complete with werewolves and chupacabras. Nowadays, the aging wrestlers sign movie posters during wrestling matches, their glory days long gone. Wallace captures the poignancy of these men who don’t quite have a place in the present day but are unable to let go of their past.
The scenes between the younger Victor and Calaveras are simply comedy gold. As you can imagine these rivals want nothing to do with each other, and one of my favorite parts in the story is when they meet unexpectedly in an alley and try to beat the crap out of each other. Wallace puts his own wrestling experience to good use as he describes what I can only imagine are actual wrestling moves, and creates a sense of spectacle around these larger-than-life figures.
I was happy to see two tough but likable female characters in the story. Stella is the FBI agent assigned to the museum case, and she’s the one who recruits Calaveras, who reluctantly comes back to Rencor after being literally tossed out ten years ago. And Gypsy is Victor’s assistant who turns out to be a damn good wrestler in her own right. Both women are mostly secondary characters, but I could see them playing bigger roles in future stories.
I was hoping for a bit more of a supernatural element, but even though it’s uncertain whether the mummy is real or not, I loved the way the author ties the mummy to the luchadores monster movies of the past. It’s as if the younger generation has come full circle and embraced the traditions of their grandfathers.
Rencor: Life in Grudge City was just long enough to capture my imagination and leave me wanting more. This story is full of humor, but there’s plenty of heart as well. It’s a story of old enemies and grudging friendships, dying traditions and hopeful beginnings. And at the end is a hint that there may be more stories about Victor and Calaveras in the future. Here’s hoping.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.