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Saturday, November 15, 2014

My review of The Iron Fists of Ned Kelly (the latest in the Fight Card book series) [Sharon Hollingsworth]

I recently ran across a new series of books at, (also available at, called "Fight Card" in which several authors write under the shared pen name "Jack Tunney" (which is culled from the famed American boxers named Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney).  Some in the series are available as a kindle e-book, some in paperback and some in both formats. According to the Fight Card website "The books in the Fight Card series are monthly 25,000 word novelettes, designed to be read in one or two sittings, and are inspired by the fight pulps of the '30s and '40s...."

The one I have previously read and enjoyed featured Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson involved in a mystery in the shadowy underworld of Victorian London's bare-knuckled fighters with Holmes himself going a few rounds with former champs. Good stuff!

I got really excited when I saw that there was one in the series entitled "The Iron Fists of Ned Kelly" (based on the 1874 brawl between Ned Kelly and Wild Wright) that was released in e-book form on November 11, 2014, a very fitting launch date. See now that it is available in print, will definitely be ordering that. The cover art is fantastic, really evocative of another era in publishing made to look like a well-thumbed and somewhat yellowed, musty (or musky?), perhaps cigarette smoke infused book featuring Ned and Wild battling it out. I would actually love to get an enlarged poster of this cover!

These links give some background information on this title and an image of the cover.

The gentleman who takes a turn as Jack Tunney for The Iron Fists of Ned Kelly is David Foster. He does a wonderful job bringing the young Ned Kelly to life. Actually, Ned is more real here while being part of "speculative fiction" than he has been portrayed in many works of straightforward fact. When I got to the end of this book, I was like "Whoa! Wait!!! I want more, more, MORE......" But, it seems I am putting the cart before the horse, best if we go to the beginning and see how the story begins and progresses. No worries about me giving spoilers, because if you know the Kelly story, then you know the basic plot line. I duly note that this is a work of historical fiction and that dialogue has been invented, some characters and situations have been invented and so forth. I accept that. I applaud that. Just me being me, though, I like to point out some things that are not exactly in keeping with the known facts so anyone new to the Kelly world might gain proper insight.

As the book opens, we first encounter Ned in his cell at the Old Melbourne Gaol on the night before his execution. He is thinking back of what has led him to this place in time. During the course of this Father O'Hea stops by to visit with Ned to offer comfort. Ned reaches into the back of his copy of Lorna Doone and gives O'Hea two letters written for his mother and sister Maggie and asks him to see that they get them. Ned soon begins to tell Father O'Hea about some of the events of his past with emphasis on one escapade in particular. His tale begins in 1870 when a hawker named Gould had a wagon bogged in mud and sought help in getting it out. The ever obliging and industrious young Ned goes to help and soon has it extracted from the quagmire. Within a short while a horse appears before them having bolted away from a rival hawker, Jeremiah McCormack (actually McCormick, but it was spelled as McCormack in the Jerilderie Letter so I see why it was used). Gould recognises it as McC's horse and Ned offers to take it to town and see it gets back to its rightful owner. When Ned does this, the ill tempered McC is rude and abusive and grabs the wrong end of the stick, jumping to all sorts of ill-conceived conclusions, and starts a fight with Ned. Later McC goes to Constable Hall to make a complaint against the young ruffian saying Ned assaulted him and stole his horse's blanket. (supposedly it was Jim Kelly who took the horse to town to give back to McC. McC went to the Kelly homestead and fussed at Gould who was staying there until the roads dried up about how Gould had used his horse, etc) A bunch of stuff goes down, none of it good, with the main one going down Ned Kelly! Throughout all this no mention was made of the note and calf's testicles that really got things going. So, Ned was off to gaol for a while.

Fast forward a little while to the next year, 1871. In Beechworth, Ethan Rogers (actually was Edward Rogers) was the owner of the Imperial Hotel. He bemoaned the fact of how he had to keep making repairs to his barroom a little too often than he would have liked because Isaiah "Wild" Wright would inevitably bust the place up when he was in his cups. We are treated to a fun little episode/exercise/romp wherein two young rubes are apparently not acquainted with Wild's reputation (as the unofficial bare knuckle champion of the North East, no less) and refuse to get out of his way when he wanted to belly up to the bar. During the melee, which Wild easily wins even against two opponents, he "unleashes his trademark punch - a rugged haymaker - or a wild-right, as the locals called it." The two lads went down for the count and Wild was still ready to fight! After a bit of drinking and carousing he was making his way home on foot and comes across a welcoming sight - the postmaster's horse grazing by the side of the road so he decides to "borrow it." Alarm bells should be ringing about now for all Kelly enthusiasts!

Meanwhile in the book Ned Kelly has been released from gaol and has a long hard slog home, arriving to find a celebration in progress. It was not for him, though, because they did not know he had been released. This was an engagement party for his sister Annie and a young man named Alex Gunn (actually, they were wed in 1869). At the party Alex introduces Ned to his good friend Wild Wright. Wild says that his horse had strayed and was wondering if he could have use of one of Ned's horses until his could be found (hopefully by Ned) and they could do the exchange. With Alex vouching for his friend, Ned agrees not realizing that the horse in question was a stolen one. (actually this event took place 3 weeks after Ned got home, not the first day, but I suppose the narrative had to be quickly and neatly moved forward).

Having found the mare, Ned decided to ride it around a while, still blissfully unaware of her stolen status. Constable Hall, who played a large part in him being sent to gaol before, saw him and decided to arrest him for horse theft. Even though Ned kept saying that the horse belonged to Wild Wright, Hall was having none of it and attempted to murder Ned right there in the street, thankfully the gun misfired three times. What ensues next is a battle between Ned and Hall with Ned delivering "a brutal uppercut that caught Hall on the point of the chin." The true story is that Ned did not hit Hall, remember in the Jerilderie Letter where he said "I dare not strike him or my sureties would lose the bond money." However, he did grab him by the collar and trip him. Ned said "I threw him on his belly I straddled him raked both spurs into his thigh." That doesn't really sound like riding him like a horse as the book says, but it makes for a jolly good read and mental image. Anyway, it all ended up with Hall getting the better of him after Ned was grabbed by Lonigan of all people (this was just to drive the plot along because Ned would not meet Lonigan or have any dealings with him whatsoever until 1877) and another trooper and Hall beat him about the head with the butt of his revolver.  Ned goes away again after not being free for long. He was given 3 years gaol time, Wild was given 18 months and though the book says Alex for his part in it all got 18 months it was really 3 years also.

The story proceeds with Ned having a fuss/set to with some cranky prisoner inside the gaol and for the first time he gets to meet Father O'Hea acting in capacity as gaol chaplain.

After serving his time he heads home again in 1874, finding that during his absence that his brother Jim had been gaoled for 5 years and that his sister Annie had died in childbirth. The child on Ellen Kelly's hip is said to be Annie's but we know that Annie's baby by then was buried alongside her and this was Ellen's baby from an illicit affair with Bill Frost. Ned starts to take on responsibility and works hard and is well on his way to making something of himself. One day he stopped by the Imperial Hotel to have a drink with his cousin, Tom Lloyd, when in walks you-know-who. Ah, yes, the current unofficial bare-knuckle champion of the North East was in the house and due for some major payback from our young hero. They were about to mix it up right there but publican Rogers stepped in and suggested they stage a match outside (hoping to save his bar from being demolished and maybe profit from the wagers, too, no doubt). They accept and the time is set and bets are placed. This is where the book really earns it's Fight Card distinction.

Over the course of several pages we are given a quite literal blow by blow (pun intended) account of how such a fight might have ensued. Both men gave and took tremendous hits that would have felled lesser men in a short time. It was exciting and the dialogue between them and others really moved the story along. We had Lonigan there mouthing off to Ned trying to make him madder than he was to get him off his game and then Lonigan slithered over to Wild to try and bribe him to get Ned good! Of course, Wild hated the traps as much as Ned, so he rebuffed the surprised policeman, earning Ned's respect. Of course, Lonigan didn't do any of this in reality, but it makes for a bit of lively banter and fun and a show of solidarity between the two young combatants. Eventually, Ned wins the coveted title of champion (even if unofficial) from Wild and goes in the bar to have a drink, soon he is sharing one with Wild and a friendship born in blood and sweat was firmly cemented.

We are then taken back to Ned in gaol as he winds up his tale to O'Hea and the rest of the story plays out very quickly.

As stated above, I wanted more!

I highly recommend this book. The action was great and the dialogue crackled. The price for the e-book is very reasonable, too.

A bonus is that the name of Fitzpatrick does not appear at all. Thank God for small mercies!

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