Sometimes survival means fighting the bad fight

The promotional jacket copy for Kevin Hardcastle’s new novel In The Cage comes out swinging: “A feared cage fighter in mixed martial arts, Daniel is closing in on greatness—until an injury derails his career,” we are told. “Out of work in his country hometown, Daniel slips into the underworld, moonlighting as muscle for a childhood-friend-turned-mid-level gangster.”

Advertising this as unabashedly generic has its own kind of poetry, but one imagines it may also cause the typical reader of literary fiction to roll their eyes hard enough to induce vertigo. What more pompous decades referred to as “pulp fiction” may be riding a new wave of critical interest, but there remains something giggle-inducing about the phrase “a feared cage fighter in mixed martial arts.” Which is a shame, because the book is much more clever, and more nuanced, and just basically better than the marketing makes it out to be...