“Gladiator – A True Story Of ‘Roids, Rage and Redemption” by Dan Clark AKA Nitro, “Night Of Thunder” by Stephen Hunter, “Dead Silence” by Randy Wayne White, and “Long Lost” by Harlan Coben

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This month, 4 very tough guys. 3 fictional and one real – sorta.

One of the greatest things about fiction is that you can learn more about what goes on inside a fictional character’s mind than you can ever learn about what goes on in the mind of a real person.

Autobiographies are shaded by the author’s rose-colored glasses. Biographies are colored by the dust of history. But fictional heroes can have a purity that flows directly from a writer’s spirit. Their thoughts transferred from the ethos to the printed page unadorned.

This crystalline clarity is the reason fictional heroes can be more educational than real life ones. That and because no real life tough guy could ever survive what the fictional ones do – the danger, the battles, the babes  …  At least that’s what I thought. Then I found “Gladiator” the autobiography of Dan Clark, a man you might know as Nitro, star of the original American Gladiators.

Gladiator – A True Story Of ‘Roids, Rage and Redemption

“Gladiator – A True Story Of ‘Roids, Rage and Redemption” by Dan Clark AKA Nitro. (Simon & Schuster $25, 241 pages. Hard cover.) www.simonandschuster.com

Prior to reading “Gladiator” I’d assumed that the show was a relatively minor TV show, entertaining but certainly not a success on the level of MASH, CSI or even The A Team.

Turns out it was a pretty big deal. Gladiator stardom was Clark/Nitro’s entry to Hollywood society — partying with Arnold (Schwarzenegger, not Tom) and 3 American Presidents!  But the single minded focus on success was built on a steroid foundation — twenty-years of abuse that led to smuggling, pissing blood, plastic surgery to reduce steroid induced breast growth and frequent bouts of the uncontrollable anger known as ‘Roid Rage.

Clark survived an extremely tragic childhood to live a life that many men fantasize. Appearing in Madison Square Garden, bedding Playboy Bunnies and porn stars, Clark explores the price of fame, the pressure of stardom, and how the whole steroid-fueled fantasy finally imploded.

A riveting, candid account of Clark’s life, “Gladiator” is a primer on what happens when fame and accomplishment are not worth the side effects. If you’ve ever thought about exploring steroids to improve your athletic performance or worried that your kids might, Gladiator is what your life could become.

Night Of Thunder

“Night Of Thunder” by Stephen Hunter. (Simon & Schuster $26, 304 pages. Hard cover.) www.simonandschuster.com

Bob Lee Swagger is a Grit-Lit favorite. The sort of a good-ol’ boy-tough-guy- Marine-John-Wayne-type all men at some level would like to be. And while the bad guys in “Thunder” can seem almost caricatures, the book was very entertaining and is highly recommended.

First, the bad guys make the mistake of attacking Swagger’s family and as every Swagger fan knows, that means they immediately became dead men walking. The only question is how many bullets it will take before they die.

Hunter gives us lots of reasons to keep reading. Archetypical bad guys, NASCAR celebrities, fast cars and an unrelenting fight to protect his family and stop the bad guys. Of course, Swagger remains the last man standing.

Dead Silence

“Dead Silence” by Randy Wayne White. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons $25.95, 304 pages. Hard cover.) www.rwwhite.com

Another Grit-Lit favorite, Doc Ford grows with each book. In New York City, waiting to meet a female senator, Ford watches kidnappers try to snatch her off the street right in front of him. Ford saves the senator but the bad guys get the other person in the car.

Ford swings into action. And the rest is pure Randy Wayne White – action, engaging characters and plot twists you could never guess.

“Long Lost” by Harlan Coben. (Dutton $27.95, 372 pages. Hard cover.) www.harlancoben.com

Former almost-a-pro-basketball-player turned sports agent, Myron Bolitar hasn’t heard from former girlfriend Terese Collins for ten years and her call from Paris catches him completely off guard.
Now suspected in the murder of her former husband, Terese turns to Myron for help. Staying a step ahead of Homeland Security, Interpol, and Mossad. Myron and his refined but violent best-friend Win uncover a sinister plot with shocking global implications.

Coben, Bolitar and Win at their best.

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