2 out of 4 stars
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Ice hockey is a game of skill, agility, and retribution. Valerie Wood’s Enforcer immerses the reader into the world of ice hockey, focusing on the toll the sport takes on one particular team position. The enforcer on a hockey team is the guy that habitually protects his teammates through physical retaliation on the ice. If you ever witness a gloves-off fight during a hockey game, chances are that it is being instigated by the team’s enforcer. While they can play a vital and strategic role on the ice, being the team goon can take a heavy toll on a player.
Cole Bowman is the designated enforcer for the Rockets. While he has the drive and ability to be a quality player, his bad boy reputation has shoehorned him into an undesirable role along with a terrible contract for his new team. Cole does his best to satisfy his volatile new coach; all while trying to deal with the pressures of being a disappointment to his father and learning to developed positive relationships with his teammates. In his effort to safeguard his position with the team, Cole turns to a regimen of steroids for strength, opioids for pain management, and alcohol to help him live with himself. Throw in a healthy measure of tranquilizers and a dash of cocaine and you have a train wreck just waiting to happen. Already an emotionally vulnerable person, Cole’s constant struggles with his work and his professional life are exacerbated by his drug and alcohol use. On the ice, Cole is a fearsome force to be reckoned with; however, as a person he is a fragile man on the brink of self-destruction.
Valerie Wood is able to draw the reader into the alien world of ice hockey and instantly makes you empathize with someone who starts brutal fights for a living. She includes enough information in her writing so that someone unfamiliar with ice hockey has an adequate understanding of what is going on, while not going into too much detail as to bore someone who is an enthusiast. There is a satisfying balance of on the ice action and Cole’s personal life, so a reader who is not particularly into sports will not find themselves disinterested.
The plot was interesting and kept me guessing throughout due to some unanticipated twists and turns. There were more than a few times where I had to suspend belief because certain situations and interactions didn’t seem probable or realistic. I was unimpressed by a lot of the stilted and awkward dialogue that occurred between Cole and the other men in the novel. The plot had the tendency to jump around a bit and major events in Cole’s life seemed to happen too rapidly. There were also many times when the point of view would change to that of a minor character for only a few paragraphs.
As I read this book, I was constantly reminded of the fact that the novel was published almost two decades ago. It seems as if the bulk of the book was written in the early 90s. How quickly we have forgotten about the world of payphones, fur coats being stylish, and life without the Internet. This book is full of references that will definitely bring you back. Additionally, it is pretty evident that it was formatted for paperback and the formatting for e-readers has not been done properly.
I had a hard time deciding how to rate this book. Wood did an amazing job of creating a deeply flawed protagonist that the reader will easily become invested in and care about. The storyline was interesting and I did enjoy reading this novel. On the other hand, the language feels antiquated, portions of the plot seemed hard to believe, and there needs to be another solid round of editing. If the author is testing the waters for the potential of releasing a second edition of this book, I suggest she take a little time to modernize the language. As is, I rate this book 2 out of 4 stars. If the editing had been more thorough, I would have rated it a bit higher.
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