Shaun Assael and Mike Mooneyham's riveting history of the World Wrestling Federation opens dramatically enough, with wrestler Owen Hart's horrifying public death in front of a hooting live audience, most of whom naturally assumed that it was a publicity stunt. The tense opening chapter seems to set up the responsible, family-oriented Hart as the book's hero, but that turns out to be a bit of a dead end. Hart does emerge from Sex, Lies, And Headlocks with his reputation unsullied, but otherwise, the behind-the-scenes wrestling world depicted here features, to use industry terminology, an abundance of heels and almost no babyfaces. Then again, the bad guys always get the best lines, and it would be hard to imagine a heel as complex, charismatic, and just plain reprehensible as Vince McMahon, Headocks' literally larger-than-life (thanks in no small part to copious steroid abuse) antihero. Though a third-generation wrestling man and the son of a wrestling mogul, McMahon himself spent much of his childhood living in near-poverty, and ultimately had to work his way up the WWF ladder like any other grunt. Before taking over, McMahon made his name by promoting such pop-culture freak shows as a match pitting Muhammad Ali against a Japanese wrestler, and Evel Knievel's notorious Snake River Canyon jump. McMahon brought that mixture of shamelessness and showmanship to wrestling, and through a canny and colorful mixture of chutzpah, fearlessness, and possibly illegal business practices, he built the WWF into a global phenomenon with the ethics and ambience of a low-rent traveling carnival. And in Ted Turner, the former owner of World Championship Wrestling, McMahon found an adversary nearly as colorful, driven, and shameless as himself. Headlocks packs the visceral wallop of a great pulp novel, reveling in its rogue's gallery of steroid freaks, con men, unscrupulous doctors, and back-stabbers, and depicting capitalism as the ultimate contact sport. The book ends with McMahon in a slump, thanks to the spectacular failure of the XFL and the sinking price of WWF (now WWE) stock. But if history is any indication, he and his brand of flashy staged violence will inevitably come back bigger, badder, and uglier than ever.