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The Professional by W.C. Heinz




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If, like me, you missed reading W.C. Heinz’ fine novel, The Professional, when it came out in 1958, you have another chance. The book was reissued in paperback recently, with a new forward by Elmore Leonard, praising the writer, this book, and Heinz’ influence on Leonard. The book jacket also proclaims this quote from Ernest Hemingway: “The Professional is the only good novel about a fighter I’ve ever read and an excellent novel in its own right.”

Bill Heinz uses mostly dialogue to introduce readers to boxer Eddie Brown and his training for a middleweight championship fight through the narration of sportswriter Frank Hughes who is shadowing Brown to prepare a magazine feature article. Here’s an excerpt:

“By the time Eddie and Cardone reached us, Penna was just coming into sight over the top of the hill.
 ‘You took it too hard your first day,’ Jay said. ‘You’ll be stiff.’
 ‘Not bad,’ Eddie said, breathing and sweating. ‘God, Jay, I fought less than a month ago. I’m in pretty good shape already.’
 ‘I bet you took it too hard. You wanna bet?’
In their room Jay helped Eddie out of his sweater and threw him a towel. While Eddie sat on his bed, wiping his face and neck, Jay knelt down and took Eddie’s heavy shoes off and then Eddie swung his legs up and lay back on the pillow.
 ‘Now you just take it easy and cool out,’ Jay said.
 ‘I know, Jay,’ Eddie said.
 ‘Well, it don’t hurt to tell you.’
 ‘Who put this here?’ Eddie said.
There was a small white plastic radio on the gray-painted lamp table between the two beds.
 ‘Girot lent it to you,’ Jay said. ‘His wife hive it to me this morning. She says Girot wants you to have it while you’re here.’
 ‘Hey, that’s nice.’ Eddie said, motioning for me to see the radio. ‘I was thinking of getting one before I came up, and then I got all fouled up with things the last couple of days.’
 ‘So Girot likes you,’ Jay said.
 ‘He’s a nice guy, isn’t he?’ Eddie said, turning on the radio. ‘I have to thank him. He’s all right.’
 ‘You’re all right with him, too,’ Jay said. ‘You don’t give him no trouble. He wants you to win this fight.’
 ‘Don’t we all,’ Eddie said.”

Eddie’s character develops through dialogue, and Heinz writes a novel as disciplined as Brown’s training program: his words are carefully chosen, the plot develops gradually, the characters and situations are vivid, the language they use always sounds right. Take a trip back to the 1950s and enjoy reading The Professional.

Steve Hopkins, February 1, 2002


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