Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Trust me..(uh him) on this
For someone who makes a living (booksellers are paid rather handsomely don't you know) badgering people into reading books they probably didn't intend to, I rarely solicit opinion outside of these guys and a number of favourites.
That might be true for other booksellers, I'm not sure; but I regularly refer to an old friend who eats crime fiction, knows it back and forth, and is just a great reader. Recently, he came up with this.
L. A Rex is a wonder.
Ben Halloran is a newly minted white L.A cop with a shadowy past, teamed with an old school Hispanic Miguel Marquez, a throwback to the controversial Daryl Gates era of the L.A.P.D. The pair are beat cops in South Centrals 77th Division, as is the author and first time novelist Will Beall.
If he's merely writing about what he knows, Beall has written a hell of a memoir disguised as fiction. But his chops are too good and the plot moves like a jaguar.
The books begins with the notorious hip hop wars between East and West in the late 90s and the social fallout from the Rodney King verdict.
In interviews online, Beall notes that due to it's economic isolation, South Central L.A is really more of a small town in which community policing is a necessity, albeit an extraordinarily dangerous one. As such, secrets are precious and rarely seem to hold up.
Much of the plot rests on a father son dynamic between Ben and his father, a powerful lawyer with deep roots in the hip hop and film trade. The remainder moves around gang violence, various industry moguls and dubious alliances on both sides of the law.
Chris, my aforementioned sage, compares Beall to fellow cop novelist Kent Anderson and that fits. It's been years, but I remember Anderson being a bit bleaker. That's a plus, as one of the strengths of L.A Rex resides in the blinkered humanity of the beat cops and another main character Darius, a Crip gang member turned hip hop artist.
Critics are going to wonder about the level of violence, but it feels consistent with it's surroundings. It may strain credibility for a paranoid character to guard his safe with a snapping turtle for example, but given the culture of acquisition in corners of the hip hip world, it comes off as genuine.
If there's a minor quibble, perhaps the end wraps up a bit quickly given the accumulated history here, but a final blowout/meltdown seems almost biblical in its denouement.
Will Beall is a formidable talent and his second book, tentatively titled Lion Hunters should put him into the Ellroy/Wambaugh/Connelly league.
This is an exceptional first novel.
Posted by Dave