Score: 92/100 (9.2 out of 10)
Five dead bodies are discovered on the side of the freeway in Long Beach, California, a hotbed for gang violence and criminal activity in the state.
Two homicide detectives, the aptly-named Mark McGuire, an ailing veteran of the force, and his ravenous, somewhat-mysterious partner, Hugo Cortez, are assigned to investigate this chilling murder case. The odd-couple is later joined by Sergeant Rodriguez, who comes upon another grizzly murder (that of Tony Bledsoe), that is believed to be related to the case. They leave no stone unturned, even pursuing a psychic, word on the street, associates of the suspect, and more, finding breadcrumbs of evidence and body parts along the way. All of this is done on the their quest for truth, justice, and to do right by those whose lives were taken.
Among the dead is a member of the violent Mexican gang, Dominguez 13, LV (short for Lorenzo Villicana), who is largely believed to have been targeted because he owed money to a dealer. Also, the bodies of two women are found with his, those of Vanessa and Katherine. Drug problems appear to be a part of many of the stories of these victims, being discovered with drugs either in their system or on their person. Some of the victims are viewed as destitute or even homeless.
One of the big questions emerges: should authorities try just as hard to bring justice to the poor, the homeless, and the drug-addicted as they would for the average, upstanding person? Is a life a life or do different lives hold different values?
What's interesting is that detectives McGuire and Cortez commit themselves to solving this case regardless of who (or how) these victims were in life. So what if they had a rocky past. So what if the rest of society might view these types of people as expandable or “scum.” McGuire and Cortez know they have a job to do—a duty to uphold. They take pride in their badges. You can tell that McGuire in particular has a strong sense of honor that he clings to, largely because of his years on the force. You can tell that he takes this case personally because it might be his last case before retirement (for all he knows). This might be his second chance, his last chance after almost losing his place in the department entirely.
Likewise, you can sorta tell that Cortez views this case as a sort of escape. Cortez, a man who seems to have a dismal and depressing home life, finds solace and peace in what he does in the field and in that squad car. It's almost like an escape for him, and we can definitely empathize with that feeling.
Also unique and interesting about this book is that you get the perspective of many of the victims before their lives are sadly taken. You get to know and appreciate them as human beings, not just as statistics. You can tell that was very important for the author to portray.
Another thing that's quite special about this book is the dark, dismal atmosphere and world-building. The streets and ghettos of Long Beach come alive in this book, something that's especially evident in the harsh, rough language (a kind of dialect) members of the community use. It can be quite painful and uncomfortable for some readers to read the N word used so frequently in dialogue, sometimes from sentence to sentence. An argument could be made that this just adds to the genuineness and authenticity of the text. It is believable that this is what these people actually talk and sound like. There's weight to that. Someone in a rough and harsh environment is more likely to speak roughly and harshly. Drug problems and poverty are also apparent.
You know how down on their luck some of these people are when they're wearing JaMarcus Russell jerseys. You know the community is dirty, grungy, and unkept when figures like Lobster Girl are born with deformities, possibly caused by a parent's drug use (or maybe pollution). You know the community is dirty, grungy, and unkept when one of the officers describes “cauliflower herpes” as if he's seen his share of it. Again, it can be very uncomfortable to read these passages, but it does make it seem more gritty and real.
And it IS real. Yes, we were shocked too. So much of this book seemed so spectacular and fantastical that we assumed it was fiction! Well, it's not. The major events in this book including the murders actually happened, and the author actually knew both detectives. We even see a younger Reynolds come in and out of the book.
One interesting tidbit is when it's explained why officers don't sit in the homes they visit. It turns out that it's because of the fear of bringing bugs home, “especially the little ones with the eggs hanging out of their asses” (to paraphrase). That makes perfect sense.
We had some jokes prepared about some of the characters, but we decided to drop them out of respect, particularly for the victims (who were real people). However, one thing that continues to be hilarious throughout the book is that the two detectives are constantly, continuously eating.
Food is constantly an issue in this book. Protein bars. Steaks. Lobster. Breadsticks. Fruit bread. Burgers. French fries. Chili. Donuts. Food is discussed so often that it practically becomes a running joke. It even almost starts an argument between two of the officers about one eating steak without inviting him. They're even eating when interviewing the psychic!
So, what are some things we took away from reading this book? Well, it definitely provides a genuine and authentic perspective—stepping right into the shoes of detectives during the investigation of a heinous series of crimes.
It has some minor pacing issues, especially with the small talk and always stopping to eat. This is similar to the issue in another law enforcement book we're reading, Badge 149. It's somewhat reminiscent of the small talk that the hitmen in Pulp Fiction have, but it does slow and bog things down a lot. Could some of the fat have been trimmed in this book? Could things have been more concise?
The one thing that might really get to some readers is that it can be quite uncomfortable and perhaps even painful to read some of the dialogue and visceral descriptions. This may have been avoided if the author hadn't tried to write out every piece of dialogue verbatim and instead simply described the gist of what the person had said. This book is loaded with scathing language, especially derogatory terms for different races, as we've mentioned before. And, as we've mentioned before, it adds to the feeling that the people in the community are “touched” or damaged. It's completely unfiltered. It adds to the immersion. You even get the familiar “this call may be monitored” warning in the middle of phone conversations with inmates.
There's a point to it, yes, but it doesn't change the fact that it can really hurt to read or hear it over and over again. There are 76 “mutha******s” and 12 “mother******s” for a grand total of 88 MFers used in this book! That is actually kinda hilarious to think about. What's less hilarious is that there are also 81 “n*****” used in this book. 81! For comparison, there are only 67 uses of the word “shot(s)” and 66 uses of the word “officer(s).” There are only 56 uses of the word “police!” So there are OVER three-times (300%+) as many uses of the terms for MFers and N-ers as there are police--the subject of the whole book. It also messes a bit with the pacing since these sections often serve like speedbumps over the main plot and action.
The visceral descriptions of missing, deformed, or herpes-infected body parts can also be off putting, especially when paired with the constant presence of and descriptions of food.
It does give you some extra admiration for the men and women in these police departments who have to be exposed to these things and still come home to eat, sleep, and spend time with their families—knowing what they know, seeing what they've seen, and experiencing what they've experienced.
This book is projected to be released in May!