"Granite Grit" by Lee Cooper is a remarkable book, and one that deserves to be widely read. Joe is a family man living in Inverurie in Aberdeenshire. He has a beautiful wife who has seen him through tough times in the past when his mother committed suicide, two great kids who he adores, and a nice home. But then he loses his job in the paper mill, and the bills begin to pile up. He doesn't want his wife to resume full time work as a nurse in Aberdeen, a job that caused her to have a breakdown, but it increasingly looks as if it's either that or lose their home. And then by chance he meets Tim, an old training pal from Joe's youthful boxing days. Tim persuades Joe to start training again, after a gap of many years, at a gym in Tillydrone, the run-down area of Aberdeen in which he grew up.
Joe excels, despite his lack of practice, as he draws on his still-simmering hatred of his long-absent father to overcome training opponents who should be far better than him. And then he's made an offer he can't refuse: to fight for money, enough money to begin to pay the bills at home. Joe knows his wife will not accept his return to fighting, so tries to conceal what he is doing. As he becomes ever more deeply embroiled in the underworld of illegal fighting, he becomes increasingly estranged from his wife and kids. We follow Joe's downward spiral towards apparently inevitable self-destruction. Things come to a head when he's set up to fight Reaper, a man whose fearsome reputation for killing opponents in England means he can no longer find anyone there prepared to face him.
I approached this book with some doubts. After all, I'm far from a fan of boxing, and will travel a distance to avoid it on TV. Yet Lee Cooper has done an amazing job in enabling his readers to get under Joe's skin as he tries to overcome his demons and evade being drawn so far into the underworld that he is totally changed by the experience, assuming he survives at all. The central character of Joe is compellingly drawn, and other characters come over equally convincingly. The plot, which begins straightforwardly enough, takes on a life of its own as you become more and more immersed in the story, and there are some lovely twists and turns as you near the end. The fight scenes are detailed and graphic, yet written with an insight and sensitivity that brings them to life, even for someone disinclined to engage too closely with them.
The result is a book that draws back the curtains on an aspect of life in Scotland that very few of us will have experienced, yet which it is easy to believe exists, very much in the form portrayed by the author. "Granite Grit" is a self-contained novel, but is also intended to be the first in a trilogy of books. Having read it, we are very much looking forward to the author's next book in the series.