Writing a taut, action-packed crime thriller trilogy set in the world of professional wrestling is a work of genius. Paul O’Brien, author of the Blood Red Turns Dollar Green trilogy, is no random stranger to the business – he co-wrote Jim Ross’s autobiography, for instance – and his knack for creating drama that everyone can enjoy out of the inside workings of the biz is admirable. On top of that, he has the sense of flair and drama that any good wrestling booker or crime novel author needs to have – as well as the knack for pulling the wool over the reader’s eyes in an entertaining fashion only to astonish you when he yanks it off again and reveals the truth about matters. (To that extent, being able to “work” the crowd – get them to believe a ruse – is a skill common to both fields.)
In addition, O’Brien cunningly teases out the commonalities between the world of professional wrestling as it existed back in the pre-WWF days of the local territory system and the world of the Mafia as depicted in The Godfather and other such cultural touchstones. After all, in both worlds you have regional franchises governed by a fractious bunch who get along together only for the sake of the money, and just as the Mafia has its code of silence – omerta – wrestling has the concept of “kayfabe”, the work put in to maintain the illusion that the fights are all 100% real and not predetermined in any way.
The Blood Red Turns Dollar Green trilogy unfolds in a slightly alternate version of wrestling history. Whilst the old school territory system was overseen in real life by the National Wrestling Alliance, here it’s the National Wrestling Council, and the wrestlers and promoters here are similarly imaginary. This deviation from reality allows O’Brien to present a sort of juiced-up, hyperbolic version of the era; the NWA was nowhere near as Mafia-like as O’Brien’s NWC in its dealings and in general relations between the owners of regional promotions were a bit cozier than they are presented as being here. (They saved more of their bile for the various “outlaw” promotions who’d try to set up here and there independently of the NWA, thereby cutting into their profits.)
But by dialling up the viciousness, O’Brien in effect establishes his own kayfabe – not the kayfabe of the fights themselves, but the kayfabe of the fights behind the fights, an illusory depiction of the backstage business of the wrestling world which is more immediately entertaining and exciting than the reality ever could be – and that’s saying something, considering some of the wild stories of behind-the-curtain shenanigans in wrestling that circulate.