1605 Fringe sports & epic fights
Five Moves of Doom
by A.J. Devlin
Edmonton: NeWest Press, 2022
$22.95 / 9781774390559
Reviewed by Caileigh Broatch
In the professional wresting world, the words “five moves of doom” can cause a tidal wave of excitement. It’s a series of signature moves unique to each wrestler that, often, dictates how the match will go — if they’ll win or lose. The term was popularized by Stone Cold Steve Austin, John Cena, The Rock, and Bret Hart. They all had a sequence they’d utilize to score big victories.
It’s said that successful wrestlers don’t need an extensive library of moves; they just need a few moves they can do well. For A.J. Devlin, “Hammerhead” Jed is just that: an exceptional piece of fiction that is fast-passed and fun in all the right spots. The series has punched its way into BC’s noir novel scene and looks set to remain there.
The series so far: in Cobra Clutch, readers are introduced to the private investigator “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead. The amateur PI is hired to locate a missing pet python for his ex-tag-team partner Johnny Mamba. And so begins the journey of our intrepid detective. After the python, named Ginger, turns up dead, there is very little time to breath. From pro-wrestlers to scuzzy bikers, Jed has his hands full. A good thing that Devlin is a whiz when it comes to gritty page-turning action. Every hero goes through a journey, and in Cobra Clutch Jed nearly loses everything. Thankfully for him, and us, he’s pretty scrappy and able to jump right back into the action in the second novel of the series, Rolling Thunder. Sparing no punches, readers are popped into the world of women’s fast track roller derby as Jed is hired to locate a missing coach. You can read the British Columbia Review here, but in short, the book features racetracks, Dachshund racing, illegal activities in Vancouver’s dark alleys, and a mysterious bowler-hat wearing man.
The Hammerhead Jed series is Devlin’s debut in the book world. A pretty impressive feat, but no surprise considering the expert way he handles tongue-in-cheek humour, expressive dialogue, dazzling characters, and prose that is vivid and clean. Five Moves of Doom, which takes place a few months after the second book in the series, is no different then its predecessors with quick jabs of action from the word go, except … being arrested for murder isn’t something Hammerhead Jed can easily fight his way out of.
There is one thing that Devlin always delivers on: his opening lines pack a wicked punch. The springboard in Five Moves of Doom may be the best one yet: “You have a couple of options when you answer the door wearing nothing but a skin-tight pair of Andre the Giant boxer briefs,” Devlin writes, “before being arrested for murder.”
In what feels like a refreshing move, Devlin doesn’t immediately write Jed out of danger. Instead, we hop back into a simpler time. Chapter 1 opens, fittingly, in a gym. Just some experienced fighters getting friendly ringside, chatting about how many times they’ve been punched in the face. A nice little foreshadowing of what’s to come. After a bit of banter about the good ol’ days of pro wrestling and mixed martial arts, Jed is hired to find a stolen trophy. Or, rather, a “custom-made white-leather, diamond-encrusted UFC Light Heavyweight Championship belt,” worth nearly $200,000.
Elijah Lennox, an Ultimate Fighting veteran and the owner of the missing belt, runs the Lennox Kick-boxing & Pankration, a place for Vancouver’s troubled teens to take their impassioned emotions out on a punching bag. Gyms are dangerous places — deadly places, even. Although some of the patrons seem like stellar escape-goats for the crime, Jed’s not so easily convinced. The belt was stolen by a pro: a seamless break-in with “nothing left behind. No prints, no DNA, no clues at all.” Jed’s got a massive case on his heads, and – spoiler alert — it doesn’t go according to plan.
Enter, goat yoga. No, seriously, Devlin really went there. (But are we surprised?) Considering Devlin’s knack for finding the fringe sports of Vancouver, we should expect it — and more. Jed, who’s used to being the biggest and toughest guy in the room, is taken out of his comfort zone and into some really epic fight scenes — and he doesn’t always come out on top. On his hunt for clues, Jed compromises himself. Once an overconfident, stand-your-ground wrestler, Jed must face his limitations. He’s forced to examine his identity as a fighter, as a friend, as a lover.
As always, Jed isn’t alone in his investigation. Every PI must have a sidekick; it’s a simple truth of the mystery genre, and Declan St. James ticks all the boxes. He’s Jed’s Irish cousin, a spirited and impulsive ex-IRA gunman who can talk himself in and out of trouble, runs The Emerald Shillelagh, is a style consultant, and a karaoke god — if only for his Freddie Mercury impersonation. He’s a good guy to have on your side when the going gets tough.
There’s something special about Devlin’s series. It’s the sub-genres, the fringe sports. Jed gets to infiltrate a mirage of different circles. From roller derby to wrestling, Dachshund races and goat yoga, police stations and rooftop brawls. Places that the average reader (at least this average reader) has passing fantasy (or dread) about visiting. And Devlin portrays them with such style that it feels like you’re there along with Jed, jumping out of the way of quick blades, dodging commandos rolling out of moving vehicles, and trifling with Vancouver’s organized crime syndicates.
The over-the-top style suites the series. Even in the most serious of scenes, Devlin finds a way to keep things light. Perhaps it’s his background in screenwriting, the way he ebbs and flows from conflict and resolution, transitioning in and out seamlessly.
Readers are taken on a high-speed, fist-throwing adventure that results not only in fights but in learning more of Jed’s backstory. And there is another discovery to be made. For two novels, we’ve been wondering why it is that Jed devours banana milkshakes so fervently, and finally, we’re given the answer (note: this reviewer counted 15 trips to the good old milkshake shoppe, with over 30 mentions of the B-Shakes in this novel alone). It’s an answer that is sweeter than the drink itself. The reveal of this, which I shall not mention, will only make your banana milkshake all the more delightful.
Caileigh Broatch is a writer from Vancouver Island with a BA in creative writing and journalism from Vancouver Island University. Her work has taken her to investigate Canadian literature, gold panning, ghosts, and killer whales, among more academic topics. Editor’s note: Caileigh Broatch has has recently reviewed books by Nicholas Read, Nancy Hundal & Angela Pan, Denyse Waissbluth, Barbara Smith, A.J. Devlin, and PJ Reece for The British Columbia Review.
The British Columbia Review
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster