Listen: Dodgers by Bill Beverly, 2016.
Four teenagers from Los Angeles are told by a crime lord to drive to Wisconsin and murder a witness living there. Things happen as the quartet traverse White People Country, fight among themselves, kill the witness, and get separated.
East is 15-years-old and "runs the yard" for a drug house. He and the people in his charge are the lookouts and keep people from hanging around the outside of the house. When East's profitable drug house is raided a 10-year-old neighbor girl is shot and killed during a gun battle. East - who is no stranger to street crime trauma - is emotionally shocked.
East's boss if Finn. Finn is some sort of relative to East but the relationship is unclear to East. East has not been Finn's protege exactly but East has been given some plum jobs over the years and moved up a little at a time. East is sent to visit Finn - often times this kind of visit is an invitation to the visitor's murder. But, Finn wants East to take on a murder-for-hire. East will travel with: East's younger and estranged brother Ty, 12-years-old. With 17-year-old computer kid Walter. With UCLA drop-out Michael, who will be in charge.
East's mother is an drug addict and East already moved out of her apartment and into a "bedroom" made up of a large cardboard box on the dirt floor of another building's crawl space. Ty left even earlier when Ty was 10-years-old and Ty has been mostly unknown to East. Ty has always been stubborn and ignored others. East cannot understand Ty and is unable to communicate with Ty. Mainly because Ty refuses to talk to most everyone.
Anyhoo. East shows up at his designated spot and two of Finn's bullying heavies confiscate any papers, weapons and phones of East and the other three. The henchmen then give out fake IDs, cash, a mechanically sound but ugly minivan, and directions to Wisconsin. Finn shows up for a final word of instruction to the four which includes Finn putting a pistol to East's head. A loving man, that Finn.
The gang of four hit the road with Ty glued to a handheld video game and Michael constantly talking, cracking jokes, and ribbing the overweight Walter. Michael ignores the standing order of avoiding all hotels, restaurants, surveillance cameras or anything else that can tie the group to a location. Instead Michael insists on taking a nighttime detour to Vegas. Things start to fall apart as the croupier tells Michael he cannot use cash, Michael gets his back up, the underage East and Walter are told to leave the casino, the mnivan is getting towed, so on, so forth. In the end East stands up to Michael and expects Michael to pound the hell out of him. The pounding begins and East is saved when Ty pulls a hidden gun and tells Michael to pound pavement.
More things happen as we follow the story through East's eyes. They have trouble along the way with a gun buy, an attempted robbery in rural Wisconsin, murdering the witness and the witness's teen daughter, and East shooting an unrestrained Ty in the chest when Ty attempts a carjacking at a gas station.
East and Walter keep running but Walter uses the last cash to fly home and East keeps running. East ends up in Ohio working at a paintball range under an assumed name until Ty finds him and tells East he has to return to L.A. and take over from Finn.
The novel is a tough listen because the main characters are all teenagers sent on a murder. On one side I wanted East to be okay and succeed. But, he is out to commit murder and has little to no thought about it. That lack of thought is something he too wonders about. Ty is only 13 and appears the most experienced crook and also seems to have already learned the art of assassination.
What's it all about? What's the message behind all this? I'm not sure. East the narrator is not reliable. In the end we learn how clueless East can be: Finn is actually East's father, East has been unknowingly groomed for takeover, the whole assassination trip was a reason to get East out of L.A., East has been a dick to Ty, etc. East does not always see subterfuge. Ty has a sensitive bullshit detector and gets the group out of trouble several times. If East sees something that is 'off' he'll likely let it ride and just think on it.
I was left wondering as the end of the book came up and the media player on my phone looped around to the beginning again. I was busy and could not get to my phone and as the book restarted I heard the introductory quotes. The first quote was from The Fugitive Blacksmith and I wondered if Beverly was connecting East's journey with that of an escaped slave.
Is that Beverly's point? East is escaping modern slavery of gang life? His absent father is like a slave owner? Maybe, I don't know. This is literature so you can make up all sorts theories. Heck, the only reason I give that theory thought is that East ended up in Ohio. East could have tried Canada but he has no passport.
1. I end up trying to figure out what East wants. Where does he want to go? Or do? Hell, East is 16-years-old and never left Los Angeles before. He doesn't know what he wants except to stay alive and avoid the police. Everything is new to him: cold weather, white people, deciduous trees, mountains.
2. That the whole exercise - a freaking murder mission - is just a reason to have the kid leave town is insane.
3. The murder of the witness and the witness's daughter are down by Ty. East did not want the girl shot. That shooting brings back the death of the 10-year-old girl in the beginning of the novel. Shortly afterward East ends up shooting Ty in the chest during Ty's attempted car jacking. That shooting is all told third person by the carjacking victim. We don't know what East is thinking as he tries to kill his kid brother. From our point of view - East's point of view - we've seen Ty acting out of control. But, was he? Maybe was Ty was the logical driven one.