When I began reading Bill Beverly’s Dodgers I was expecting a story somewhere along the lines of the popular HBO series The Wire, a television series that captured my imagination for several years running. And early on, the Dodgers plotline involving inner city (Los Angeles this time, instead of Baltimore) kids working for an older, ruthless drug lord did very much resemble The Wire. But all of that changed when fifteen-year-old East, his younger brother, and two other young blacks set out on a road trip to Wisconsin, of all places, to kill a key witness who is prepared to testify against their boss in an upcoming trial. Suddenly, I was reading one of the strangest coming-of-age novels I have ever run across.
East is one of the most street-savvy kids in his world. At fifteen, he is already running a crew and is in charge of his own “house,” one of several drug dens his boss runs in their South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. Even though he no longer lives at home, much preferring the privacy of sleeping in an abandoned building to sleeping in his old bedroom, East feels responsible for his drug-addled mother and provides her with enough money to survive – even though he knows where most of his cash goes.
But Wisconsin may as well be located in a foreign country for all East knows about it, so when he learns that the two older boys in the minivan with him and his brother have seen more of the world than just Los Angeles he is willing to sit back in the middle row of seats and enjoy the view he sees out the side windows. And for a few hundred miles, and a few hours, all goes well. Then personalities begin to clash, the expense money in their pockets begins to tempt one or two of the boys to behave rashly, and it starts to look like they will be arrested long before they reach Wisconsin where their target awaits them.
Each of the boys in the minivan has been chosen because of a particular skill they have that will contribute to the success of their mission. But, as East soon recognizes, the strength of the overall team turns out to be far less than the sum of its individual parts – and that places all of them, and their mission, in grave jeopardy unless someone steps in to make drastic changes. Is East the man to make those changes? Does he even want the job anymore, or has he been so changed by what he’s experienced in his travels that now he wants more from life than the likelihood of an early death or decades spent behind prison bars? Even East can’t answer that one – yet.
Bill Beverly’s novel is a beautifully written one filled with memorable characters caught up in a situation well beyond what any of them have ever experienced in their short lives. Dodgers is, in fact, a remarkable debut that clearly marks Beverly as someone to watch for in 2017. It is that good.
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)