East is the teenage team leader of a group of lookouts for a drug joint, acting as a warning mechanism against police raids. [Spoiler alert!] Somehow the lookouts are bypassed, and the drug joint falls to a police raid. Instead of being punished – though he may have done nothing wrong – East is sent on a road trip to kill someone, at the behest of the gang’s leader. He is accompanied by, among others, his somewhat enigmatic and problematic younger brother. (Apparently, thirteen year old kids in the USA do operate as hired guns. Hmmm.) And off they jolly well go.
The book focuses on the road trip by beautifully narrating East’s interaction with this new world outside his previous (limited) existence and knowledge: the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people, the wealth, and the poverty. Simultaneously, the author carefully records the interactions among the four young men, stuck in the close proximity of one simple blue van, with the inevitable consequences of the high concentration of alpha male behavior and a willingness to resort to violence. In short, things do not go smoothly.
East is a standout character, and the writing draws the reader in effortlessly. The book thunders along, but takes enough time – and just the right amount of time – to notch up observation after observation on the world East discovers out there. The tension is slowly wound up, and the final scenes are as fresh and as well crafted as the opening ones.
I thought it a very well written book. I also thought some of the praise heaped on it went well over the top – either that or these reviewers had neither read nor heard of Elmore Leonard. It’s a fine book, but there will need to be more of the same quality before Bill Beverly should be made a literary saint. Definitely worth reading, even if you wouldn’t normally touch crime fiction, as this transcends the crime genre more than many, and can equally be seen as a coming of age tale.