December 22, 2007


Survival for young Black men living in the inner cities is tough, and the negative role models often found in the neighborhoods are of no help. This is the message of Joseph Nazel’s novel Death For Hire. Although published in the 1970s, the problem the novel examines is as relevant today as it was then.
The story opens with the teenagers waiting outside an Assistant District Attorney’s home. Turtle has the gun and Tracy is the driver of the get away car. Tracy becomes so nervous that he drives away just before Turtle fatally shoots the ADA. Tracy who hits a police car in his hurry to get away, While the police are hunting him, Turtle escapes on a bus. The remainder of the story is the hunt for Tracy by the police, Turtle, and Sugar Man, the boss drug dealer and the boys’ employer. Spider, a Black reporter for a weekly newspaper, is tipped to what is happening and he, too, starts looking for Tracy to save him from the police, who he believes will kill him first and later ask questions.
Death for Hire is a problem novel. It suggests that the cause of the untimely deaths of so many young Black men is poverty and the lack of positive role models in the Black community. The two negative role models in the neighborhood are Tracy’s father, Moses Brown, and Sugar Man. Moses moved his family from the south to Los Angels in the hope of making a better life for Tracy and his sister. He fails to find a decent job, ends up in the projects, and spends most of his time drinking. His only relation with Tracy is constant arguing.
Sugar Man’s philosophy of survival is to be the baddest man in the neighborhood by making everyone fear him. The dangerous occupation of drug dealing in the inner cities decreases young Black men’s chances of living past their teenage years. Adults like Sugar Man contribute to the low life expectancy of young Black men, who often see him as the person to be imitated because he has money, women, a good house, and a big car. He uses teenagers to do his dirty work because he can easily control them through fear. He hires the two boys to assassinate an assistance district attorney because the ADA is about to indict him.
The only on positive role model in the novel, Mike the store owner, fails to survive in the violent environment. He is gunned down protecting his store.
Spider, the reporter, married to a White woman, doesn’t live in the projects where Tracy and Turtle live, and is the voice of the author who offers no solution to the problem of low life expectancy of young Black men.
Nazel need not apologize for this message novel. Though it is not great, it gets his point across in graphic detail in straight forward, easily readable prose. I recommend social workers, police, and anyone who deals with young Black men read Death for Hire.