Mirror Image by Ice-T and Jorge Hinojosa is the second in the Kings of Vice noir thriller series (available May 7, 2013).
Do you secretly roll your eyes when you see a celebrity’s name on the cover of a novel? Do you expect the book to be snark-bait along the lines of Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi’s beach-read The Shore Thing? Are you more or less skeptical when you see a co-author’s name? (And if you’re more skeptical, how do you feel about all those books James Patterson co-authors with people you never heard of?)
Let’s be honest. We probably would not be sitting here talking about Mirror Image if it were just the second novel by a 55-year-old Jersey guy named Tracy Marrow co-written by his good friend and business partner.
Or maybe we would.
Marrow, known professionally as Ice-T, is not some kid who struck lucky with a reality TV gig or a hit record. He’s done some living and some of it has been hard living. His gangsta persona has been carefully crafted and widely disseminated but it’s less well known that both his parents died before he was 12, and that he served four years in the Army after graduating from high school. If Ice-T talks about pain, he’s not just imagining how he’d feel if he couldn’t get past the velvet rope at some club.
And not only is Ice-T a performer who has diversified into a dozen different entertainment niches, he’s also a savvy businessman who has written several other books, including his first novel, Kings of Vice, which he wrote with Mal Radcliff. (“I like this book,” one reviewer wrote on amazon.com, “It reminds me of GTA.”)
Which brings us to Mirror Image, the sequel to Kings of Vice and the second in a series about Marcus “Crush” Casey, a gang lord betrayed by his best friend who’s now back on the mean streets of New York after doing a 20-year stretch in prison.
Right from the start, the dedications serve notice the book is going to be a little nosh of noir. “To win the game, you must devise an exit strategy,” Ice-T advises. “We all saw the last scene in Scarface.” But there’s also a quote from Leo Tolstoy which sends a subtle message that movies aren’t the only cultural touchstones these guys know.
As the book opens, Casey is feeling his age, in both good ways and bad. It’s his son Antonio’s birthday and he’s going to celebrate by paying a visit to his grave. He was hoping to go alone but Carla wants to come along. Carla’s “one bad bitch” with a combination of brainpower and beauty that sometimes leaves him awed. She’s the first woman who’s really touched him since Antonio’s mother and he knows that age and time have deepened the relationship in ways he never shared with his other women.
And there have been lots of other women.
But she’s stuck with him, even after seeing the kind of hate he can generate, even after he gave her the “This is who I am, this is what I am” speech. Carla’s definitely a keeper.
As they crossed the bridge to Long Island, Casey reflected on his life and did a mental inventory of all the players in it, past and present. He was glad to reconnect with Champa Muñoz; he knew that, above everyone else, the man had his back and would always be straight up. They had been friends ever since they met at juvie, when they were twelve years old. Shinzo Becker was also a down brotha; he’d proved his loyalty on the battlefield when they forced the final showdown with his backstabbing ex-partner Gulliver Rono.
He thought of Rono, his former right-hand man, who’d betrayed him and got him sent to Attica for twenty years. In the end, that bastard had gotten his in spades, but nothing could pay back the twenty years behind bars and the loss of Casey’s son. He wondered what had turned Gulliver out and made him a snitch and a sucka—he could understand if Rono had wanted to kill him so that he could take over the Kings, but to cut a deal with the feds—that was a real bitch move. Under his breath, Casey said, “Fuck ’em, who cares.” Carla glanced at him and he shook his head so she left it alone. Casey changed lanes and went back into his head again.
Casey’s quiet contemplation doesn’t last for long. On the way back from the cemetery his cell starts ringing and doesn’t stop until he finally answers, knowing that it’s going to be trouble on the other end.
Because in Casey’s world, the shit never stops.
That makes Casey’s position at the apex of a pyramid of gangs and sets all the more precarious. He wants to move everyone out of selling hard drugs and that’s a hard sell. The last thing he needs is an Armenian gangster named Alek looking to move in on his business.
Why, Casey wonders, is the Armenian making a move into new territory when he’s always made plenty of coin doing what he does? Dealing with Alek is a delicate dance and Casey’s tactics with him are composed of equal parts street smarts and strategies gleaned from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The Art of War has been the default operating manual for criminals in books and movies for years, and Casey could easily have been just another ambitious gang lord, but Ice-T and Jorge Hinojosa have given him dimension. He talks the talk and he walks the walk, but he doesn’t walk alone. And always, in the back of his mind like an urban Obi-wan is the memory of his Attica mentor Mack D who taught him that life is all a matter of perspective.
In Attica, you either had enemies or allies, but Mack D was different. He was the father figure Casey’d never had, a man with an impressive criminal pedigree and a profound intellect that made him untouchable. He was also a master communicator who always had everyone’s attention. Mack had transcended the yard and gang bullshit and figured out more than most. He was a true samurai warrior, Buddhist monk, and Goldie from The Mack all rolled into one. He’d seen Casey through the ups and downs of prison life, got him to get his head on straight and start using his brains instead of his fists to not only survive in Attica, but make plans for what was gonna go down after he got out.
As the story unfolds and Casey has to deal with cops on his tail and rogue elements inside his organization, he also cooks up a plan to deal with a parole officer named Lomax (who used to be a dirty cop and hasn’t changed much). Lomax’s downfall is brought about by a plan that’s high-tech in execution but old school in intent and it’s a lot of fun to watch Casey masterminding the whole three-ring circus while the youngsters in his organization puke up their guts because the tension is getting to them.
It seems clear that the writers have fleshed out the details of Casey’s life from Ice-T’s own colorful history, but it makes for a livelier character. (And seriously, you have to love a character who delivers cash payments to his crooked lawyer stashed in a Louis Vuitton bag.) Crush Casey has plenty of sequels left in him, especially if they keep characters like Alek Petrosian coming to complicate Casey’s master plan for his multi-culti gang coalition.
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Katherine Tomlinson lives in Los Angeles in an apartment where her TBR pile has its own bookcase. She writes dark fiction but has a soft spot for cozy mysteries, heroic fantasy, and horror novels where only bad people get killed. She is the editor of the upcoming anthology Nightfalls.