Last year, 165,000 books were published in this country, and this year's final score could come close. No respectable gambler would make book on the chance that one volume would break out of the pack -- but 4th and Fixed has the feel of a winner. Reggie Rivers, former fullback for the Denver Broncos, has written a mystery that never fumbles.
His whacked-out thriller, about a pair of wiseguys who fix a season of professional football games, has the inane good humor of early Carl Hiaasen. "He and Elmore Leonard are my favorites," says Rivers, who played for the Broncos for six seasons and today hosts a TV show on Channel 12 and writes a weekly column for the Denver Post. But Rivers didn't set out to steal a page from Hiaasen's playbook -- or even to write a mystery. "I'd work on it after work, on the weekends," he explains. "I was really just writing scenes. I don't think I had an idea of what the thread in my story was supposed to be." Finally, his brother took at look at what he'd written and gave Rivers his plot line.
Two and a half years later, an agent sold 4th and Fixedto the fourth publisher he contacted, Sourcebooks, which commissioned an initial printing of 30,000 books that hit the stores this week. The editor on the project turned out to be Hillel Black, who more than two decades ago edited Peter Gent's North Dallas Forty -- a classic bit of irreverence by another former football player that Sports Illustratedlists in its top 25 sports books of all time. Rivers's original manuscript was 166,000 words; Black told him to cut it below 120,000 -- and to start by "going through and cutting out anything that doesn't move the plot."
Fortunately, Rivers's crazy characters made the cut, including game-fixer Michael Gasca and his 350-pound enforcer, Roscoe Evans. "It was a lot of fun to write," he says. "Gasca and Evans are the most fun characters I've created."
What, more fun than Vance Johnson, the subject of Rivers's first book, The Vance, a self-published biography?
"Yes," Rivers says, "hard as that is to believe."