Mon
Apr 10 2017 12:00pm

Review: Dodgers by Bill Beverly

Dodgers by Bill Beverly is a dark, unforgettable coming-of-age journey that is written in stark and unforgettable prose and featuring an array of surprising and memorable characters rendered with empathy and wit. It is nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Los Angeles is the only place East knows. It is his home. It is where he leads his life as a young gang member. A life all about beatings, drugs, and money, the giving and taking of all three, and managing to stay alive from one day to the next. His uncle Fin—a man who does not entertain the word no—orders him to go on a journey to Wisconsin with three other young gang members to kill a man. A man who has legal evidence that could be very harmful to Fin if he were to remain alive. 

The four young men assigned the grisly task are: Michael Wilson, all shades and laughter; Walter, fat and shaped like a pumpkin; the aforementioned East; and his younger, extremely volatile brother, Ty. But journeys such as these can make you realize what you never had:

They drove on until a sign announced a turnoff: SCENIC OVERLOOK. 

“Let’s hit that,” Walter said, “We can eat there.”

“Oh, we?” laughed Michael Wilson, but Walter took it well.

The view, framed between two immense, square boulders, revealed just how far up they’d come. A gorge opened below, green, vertiginous. Two little kids from the gigantic Navigator next to them hollered, “Wow! Wow!” East started, expecting them to be staring at him.

But they were just teetering on the edge, gaping down into the gorge below. He slid out of the van. Again he had to find his legs, find his stance. Behind the handrail the ground was slippery pebbles. He approached the edge and looked down gingerly.

It took a moment for East’s eyes to read the scene. He could see the valley’s depth, feel the real wind dipping down it. But he could not convince himself that it was real. Space both vast and unattainable, opening up between the blue walls of stone. The air below was cold, he could feel it, a reservoir, and he could sense something about the chasm, all the time piled up there. Close to forever. More time. 

Birds wheeled in midair, far below.

“Mommy, Daddy!” the kids cheered again. “Look! It’s amazing!”

East stood there too, the cold air streaming up his face, full of the smell of snow and stone.

When you step out of your familiar territory, no one knows—or cares—who you are. The rules are different. New identities and documents are issued as they set off in a van through the desert on their way to take a stranger’s life. But new identities do not protect you from yourself.

By the time Wisconsin appears on the horizon, nothing is what it seems. Broken trust and double dealing is all around—inside the van and out. How do you find your limits if you have none? Getting to Wisconsin was one thing. Getting the foul job done is another. And getting back is a completely different proposition altogether. If, indeed, you actually want to go back to where you came from.

Nothing ever goes to plan, and the young men discover that when you lead your life from day to day, dodging the next bullet, there is no plan B. As they bring danger, so danger awaits for them. Each character has a richness and depth that keeps the story grounded and moving forward at a really good pace. Despite the violence and gunplay, there is a tenderness to the narrative. 

Bill Beverly has crafted a piece of work that is nothing short of masterful. It is haunting in the way it captures the reality of the condition of young, rootless, disaffected, and dangerous young men with absolutely no investment in mainstream society or their own future. The book took my breath away. It is truly fantastic. I couldn’t put it down. 

Woven in amongst the descriptions of the main characters is a top-notch crime thriller with an ending you will not see coming. As a character-driven piece of prose, this is peerless. The writing is stripped to the bone. Not a single word is unnecessary. The atmosphere and setting is never broken by clumsy writing or flowery descriptions—not once. Evil, despondency, and the reality that these young people inhabit a world parallel to your own jumps out at you from the page and gets your attention like a cut-throat razor. 

I don’t wear a hat, but if I did, I would take it off to Bill Beverly for writing a book of such immense quality.

 

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Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.

Read all Dirk Robertson’s posts for Criminal Element.

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