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From the Desk of Valerie J. Wood

Enforcer...

A fast-paced, fascinating look at the life of a pro NHL player who is the team's fighter - or enforcer - the guy who protects his teammates. It is a tough and quite often unrewarding job. Cole Bowman is the enforcer for the Rockets. His personal life is in tumult as he becomes involved with the team owner's beautiful but conniving daughter, who works to break up his relationship with a young waitress.  A journeyman player, Cole has joined a new team with a hard-nosed, ethically-challenged coach who expects him to perform regardless of the personal cost. As the tale unfolds, the reader will be drawn inside the rough-and-tumble world of pro hockey, seeing the not-so glamorous side of a pro athlete's life. 

                                                                                                    You'll never view hockey the same way again.

Reviews of Enforcer

Below is a sampling of some reviews of Enforcer

John Buccigross, ESPN, says:

"In a world devoid of hockey fiction, Valerie Wood's story fills the void nicely with an interesting story on the toughest and most interesting athletes in the world..."

ENFORCER -- A Review by Alastair Rosie (ebooks n' bytes)

Every once in a while, a book falls into my lap that stands out from the rest. Enforcer by Valerie Wood is one of those rare finds. Based around the rough and tumble world of professional ice hockey, it is arguably one of the finest books I have read in the last few months and the novel was a great start to the new year.

Cole Bowman is an enforcer for the Rockets, a professional ice hockey team. He's good at his job and loves the game but things start going wrong for Bowman when the team owner's daughter Barbara takes a shine to him. Barbara is sophisticated, cultured and a world apart from the brawling, bone-cracking world of ice hockey. When her father puts Bowman into a situation he can't punch his way out of, Bowman knows he's in for the fight of his life. As if that wasn't enough to cope with, his addiction to steroids and other substances is wreaking havoc with his personal life. The end is a testament to the greed and graft that goes hand in hand with professional.

The coach Al Farrell is an excellent antagonist, one of those rare bad guys who exhibits some redeeming qualities. Wood has created some solid, believable characters in Enforcer, Mitzi, the waitress who has a brief affair with Bowman, his best friend, Bobby, team coach, Farrell, Bowman's father, team-mates and others all combine to provide an enjoyable and thrilling story.

It's hard to find anything wrong with this book, characterization is superb. Wood brings her vast knowledge of the ice hockey world to the fore, providing the reader with an insight into what has been perceived as a brutal sport. I found Enforcer to be a pleasure to read and a real contender for the Eppies. I don't normally give a mark out of ten for a book, but Enforcer goes to the top of the list, an encouraging start to the New Year and a shot in the arm for lovers of books everywhere.

Inside Hockey's Frank Krewda said....

What would inspire a young, female Alabamian to write a novel about hockey hooliganism? Turns out love for the underdog, respect for the NHL's top cops, and - yes - old-fashioned bad-boy magnetism. But Valerie J. Wood, author of Enforcer, is no garden-variety sycophant. After working as a photojournalist in the ECHL and AHL, Wood has earned her chops as an insider. Even Link Gaetz, for whom Wood runs a Web site, put his stamp of approval on her knack for authenticity in the foreword.

Cole Bowman, on the other hand, seems more difficult to explain. Bowman, NHL goon and Enforcer's central character, conjures up images of the late John Kordic. In contrast to his imposing appearance on and off the ice, Bowman is emotionally frail and complex. Torn between pleasing his father, who wants him to develop his playing skills, and his win-at-all-costs coach, who depends on his toughness, Bowman gets caught in a web of self-loathing and doubt which leads to a substance abuse problem that nearly ends his life.

Complicating Bowman's daily existence even further is a complicated love triangle among Cole, his working-class girlfriend, Mitzi, and Barbara, the team owner's rich bitch daughter. Barbara, ostensibly to stabilize Cole's frayed life, showers him with meals, limousines and her company. By the end of the book, readers are all too aware of her true motive: to shut Mitzi out of the picture by making Bowman 100% dependent on her and her money.

The only real problem with Enforcer is that Wood assumes that readers are extremely well-informed hockey fans. For example, she gambles that readers will know the Kordic saga, but the gamble doesn't pay. Casual hockey fans are less than likely to understand Bowman's motivations, which aren't sufficiently explained throughout the novel. Why, for example, is Cole so desperate to please his father? Why does he let an opposing player pummel him into semi-consciousness during an important game? How can coach Al Farrell justify shooting up players with near-lethal doses of pain-numbing drugs minutes before a game?

Wood makes the common mistake of telling, rather than showing, readers her character motivations. But that doesn't take away from a still very entertaining experience. Let's face it, Enforcer is the first novel I am aware of that looks under a goon's helmet to see what's swirling around. That alone makes it an interesting read. And since Cole lives, Wood may be sitting on a (hopefully, longer and more detailed) sequel.

Although I sometimes wondered if I was reading a romance novel about an NHL enforcer or a hockey book about romance, I read the book twice in two sittings. Considering the speed with which I read, I cannot give Wood a higher compliment.

Spector's Hockey Review by Lyle Richardson

Of the many hockey books I've read over the years, I had yet to read one that was a work of fiction. The true stories of professional hockey are the most prevalent and finding a work of fiction is rare. So I was intrigued when I was asked to review "Enforcer" by Valerie J. Wood. 

"Enforcer" tells the story of Cole Bowman, a forward on the fictional NHL Rockets, who's one of the top fighters and penalty minute leaders in the game. His brawling style has made him feared and hated by his rivals and a favorite of his hometown fans.

Yet Bowman is being torn apart by personal demons and the punishing demands of his occupation. His coach, a demanding, old-school mandarin, values Bowman's roles as team "policeman" but belittles and berates him in the dressing room at every opportunity. Many of his teammates treat him with barely disguised disdain, even though he carries the heavy burden of "watching their backs" during games.

In order to stay on top of his game physically, Cole uses steroids to build muscle mass and painkillers to numb the physical price he pays for toiling at his craft. Despite his size and fighting ability, Cole suffers from low self-esteem and lives in almost daily fear that his coach will replace him. He is also filled with self-loathing over what he's become and looks toward each game with dread .

His personal life provides little relief. His father, who had high hopes for Cole to become a hockey star, despises the type of player he's become and constantly harangues him with phone calls. A woman he loved cruelly and coldly breaks his heart and he has almost no friends in which to confide in.

Feeling hurt and alone, Cole uses booze to take the edge off his emotional pain. He desperately wants to impress his coach, but is constantly afraid of losing his approval. He wants to heal his estranged relationship with his father but cannot bring himself to respond to his phone messages. He wants to get closer to his teammates but retreats into silence from their taunts and ribbing. He wants to be loved but cannot get over the pain of his failed previous relationship.

Fortunately two of Cole's teammates, Bobby and Dmitri, see more in him than a silent, no-talent goon and slowly build a friendship with him. Bobby tries to get Cole to open up and share his problems, while the good-natured Dmitri believes he has the skills to be a much better hockey player.

As the story progresses, Cole also attracts the attention and affections of Barbara, the team owner's daughter, and Mitzi, a waitress at his favourite bar. Both vie to win his love and help him come to grips with his emotional turmoil.

Just as life seems to be improving, the demands of the game, the emotional abuse from his father and coach, a personal family tragedy and the stress of his love triangle with Barbara and Mitzi pushes Cole further into the solace of booze and cocaine. It also threatens to send him over the edge.

At times the story drifts into soap opera, particularly involving Cole's interaction with Barbara and Mitzi. Some of the characters come across as stiff and one-dimensional; in particular coach Al Farrell, who is portrayed as a ruthless jerk lacking compassion.

In Farrell, Wood seems to be channeling the spirit of infamous Detroit Red Wings coach and GM Jack Adams, but while coaches like him once were commonplace in professional hockey, they rarely exist to that degree anymore.

Fortunately these few flaws barely detract from the gripping story of Cole's personal and professional battles, and this is where Wood's ability as a storyteller shines through. Despite Cole's self-destructive behavior, self-loathing and lack of self-confidence, I genuinely cared for the character and found myself rooting for him to overcome his woes. It's easy to sympathize with Cole Bowman because he's seeking the same things we all want: love, respect and approval.

Wood also does a very good job of describing the game, particularly the preparations and the "stories within the story" that occur in a hockey game. Anyone having played hockey, be it professional or in a local house league, will recognize many of the scenes described by Wood.

Some critics may point to Bowman's drug use and alcohol and how it's hushed up by the team doctor and head coach as far-fetched and unlikely to occur in big-league hockey, given the physical demands and conditioning of today's players. But the story of the fictional enforcer Cole Bowman is so real because it reminded me of two real-life enforcers, Brian "Spinner" Spencer and John Kordic.

Both played a hard, mean style as marginal NHL players renowned for their fists than for their playing abilities and both lived self-destructive lifestyles away from the game. They both suffered from low self-esteem and sought the approval of father figures. Spencer nursed his pain with booze and fast women, while Kordic used drugs and alcohol to ease his whilst using steroids to build up his body.

In Spencer and Kordic's cases, their stories proved that the real life of a big-league hockey player is not always peaches and cream. There can be casualties, emotionally and physically, whether from the toll of the physical game or the abuse to their psyches.

Cole Bowman exists as a fictional character because Spinner Spencer and John Kordic were real-life pro hockey players whose self-destructive ways were treated as dirty little secrets. That's what makes this fictional story a compelling read. "Enforcer" is an entertaining read that even non-hockey fans should find enjoyable.

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