Any comparison with The Wire – a series both so good, and so picked apart by its many detractors for being, shock horror, a crime fiction show designed to entertain people – is bound to be a mixed blessing. It seems that most any American crime novel in the post-Wire era that vaguely involves drugs / the police / institutional corruption is compared instantly to it; similarly if a book is NOT set in the US, it is ‘like The Wire set in Paris / Sydney / Cleethorpes,’ etc. What I’m reaching for here is that it’s an over-used comparison, but one that still holds up for the occasional – exceptional – new creation.
Dodgers is clearly one of those creations. When East, a low-level lookout for a Los Angeles drug organisation, loses his watch house in a police raid, his boss recruits him for a very different job: a road trip – straight down the middle of white, rural America – to assassinate a judge in Wisconsin. Having no choice, East and a crew of untested boys – including his trigger-happy younger brother, Ty – leave the only home they’ve ever known in a nondescript blue van, with a roll of cash, a map, and a gun they shouldn’t have. What starts as a simple plan becomes increasingly morally complex, morphing into an investigation of the nature of duty, family and morality.
In its blurb, Dodgers does indeed contain a reference to Baltimore’s biggest export – but there’s more. Already compared with JD Salinger for its portrayal of a teen thrust prematurely into the adult world, and to Patrick deWitt for its razor-sharp dialogue, Dodgers transcends genres and comparisons, and ultimately stands on its own terms. It is, as Donald Ray Pollock attests, ‘one of the greatest literary crime novels you will read in your lifetime.’ And I sure as hell wouldn’t want to argue with him…
More Wire-worthy crime fiction:
The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott (Putnam, £19.99, June 2016) – An unearthed skeleton prompts a series of terrifying event in this debut crime western from the highly-tipped J. Todd Scott.
Fear is the Rider by Kenneth Cook (Text, £8.99, August 2016) – A shattering road pursuit through the Australian outback is the focus of this taut, gripping novel from Kenneth Cook.
The Killer is Dying by James Sallis (No Exit, £7.99, out now) – Exemplary late writing from James Sallis, the master of the American crime novella.
Dodgers is published 30 March by No Exit
Find more crime by No Exit here
Post by Tom