Thursday, May 12, 2016


It was simply by chance I read Peter May's Runaway at the same time I read Bill Beverly's Dodgers. I had an inkling what each was about, but had no idea I was about to go on two very different but equally satisfying road trips.

"It was Jack's idea to retrace their footsteps of all those years before, as if in doing so they might find something they had lost on the way."

I fell in love with Peter May's writing when I was caught blindsided by the beauty and genius of The Blackhouse, the first in May's outstanding Hebrides crime fiction trilogy (highly recommended). How had I not heard of this talent?

Despite my adoration, I was a little anxious when starting Runaway, May's latest standalone to be published in the U.S. Would I love the writing outside the magic of the Hebrides? I need not have worried, May is simply a master. Although quite different from the trilogy, Runaway has the same beautiful prose, ability to set a stage, and artful characterization.

In 1965, five young bandmates run away to London, to escape their various less-than-stellar home situations and seek musical stardom. Less than a year later, only some of them return, all of them marked and changed by the experience. Runaway opens on a parallel track, fifty years later, with a man's murder in a London apartment. The impact of that murder echoes to Glasgow, where one of the original five is terminally ill. He convinces his remaining friends to make a return trip to London to settle some mysterious unfinished business related to the original trip that scarred them all,

At turns funny (a grandson hijacked into driving the men on their return trip leads to both poignancy and hilarity) and tragic, I was fully invested in both journeys as each wound towards the ultimate reveal. May has a way of painting full characters and locations without wasting time or space. Reading Runaway was a constant push and pull between wanting to race to know what happens at the same time I wanted to linger over May's words and they emotions they carried.

STREET SENSE:  A story of friendship, history, the craziness of the 60s, love, failure, loss, betrayal and, just maybe, redemption, Runaway is much more than a mystery yet never feels over-written despite its breadth. And even if you're not into any of those things, the mystery itself is enough to carry the day and is brought to a more-than-satisfying conclusion. You owe it to yourself to read Peter May.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  How could I have known then that failure of ambition is like a long, lingering death, and that disappointment with your life never goes away? It only grows stronger with the passage of time, as the clock ticks off the remaining days of your life, and any residual hope slips like sand through arthritic fingers.

COVER NERD SAYS:  It's probably unfair of me to judge this cover on its own, as I have an affinity for May's covers (the most recent of which, on the U.S. publications, are thematically similar) and if it's written by Peter May I really don't care what it looks like. That being said, I love the imagery and contrast of this cover and it would have caught my eye even if I didn't recognize it as May's work at first glance.

"Losing the house -- it was going to be on him. He owned the daytime boys; he owned their failure."

Bill Beverly's Dodgers presents a different type of road trip altogether, and carries an even heavier weight. Easton is 15, making a living in Los Angeles guarding a drug house with his crew. When things go south at the house, East is packed in a van (sans phones or other personal items) with three other gang members and sent on a road trip to Wisconsin to deal with some specific gang business.

Included in the van is East's brother, Ty, 13, who is as street-tough and closed-off as East is thoughtful and searching. Ty rides in the back of the van, quiet, unafraid, uncaring and strung tight. Michael Wilson, the oldest and supposed leader at 17, is a loose--goose accident waiting to happen. And finally, Walter, a smart, over-weight unknown. Mixed in a van on the road to violence together, the four are a recipe for disaster.

The tension comes from all fronts, both within the van between the boys and outside the van with the greater world, as four young black boys cross the middle of America. As the van makes its way to and from Wisconsin, each boy will make decisions that change them all and force them to decide what kind of men they want to be.

STREET SENSE:  A tense, gut-churning coming-of-age story dropped into some gritty crime fiction, Dodgers is a finely-tuned work. With stark prose peppered with beautiful exposition (and one ingenious shift in tense), Beverly presents real characters and puts them in situations that scream with tension. This one is haunting.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  I chose two, and it was difficult. These two are a contrast between Beverly's ability to say everything in just a few words, and to paint a picture worth reading a long paragraph about. And when that paragraph is about the weather or surroundings and it still pulls me in, that's some great writing.

Euphoria had chased off the morning chill. It was easy to explain: new guns. Plenty of bullets.

The trees grew higher--and closer--to the road. Pines, not thin and fire-hungry like California's, but tight-knit, impassable, winter-coated trees, their cones as thick as cats on the branches, green so deep it was blackish. Passing so close, they ripped East's eyes with their tiny, intimate spaces, tree to tree, branch to branch, too quick to see. They flashed by like the opposite of mountains, the grand spaces, the eons of time. Here, too many things to see and zero time to see anything. Around the back of every trunk, something could be hiding. East closed his eyes, but he didn't feel comfortable not watching either--Walter, the van, the narrow road. The deep, unforgiving ditches, the reaching trees. His eyes saw faces in them, every frightened bird an attacker, every mailbox a blaze of threatening color.

COVER NERD SAYS: No surprise, this cover immediately caught my eye. It's down-and-dirty gritty, and, if accurate, I knew I would like what was inside. I did, indeed. I love the contrast between the crisscrossing freeways and the crisscrossing power lines, in particular, but everything about this cover, from the black and white image, to the font, to the one splash of color, screams at me to read Dodgers.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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