December 6, 2010

The Gangbanger Life

In Not Long For This World, (ISBN 01401.52652) Gar Anthony Haywood’s second Aaron Gunner novel, the private detective reluctantly takes a job to prove a 22-year-old gangbanger did not kill the community leader who was trying to change the lives of some gangbangers.

Darrel Lovejoy, in partnership with flamboyant minister Reverend Willie Raines, is founder and CEO of Los Angeles Peace Patrol, an organization designed to try to persuade bangers to leave the gangbanging life. Lovejoy wants to change the life of the bangers. Raines wants to bring the gangs together for a peace conference and gain publicity for his church. The authorities believe Lovejoy was killed because he interfered with the gangs’ ability to recruit new members. The gangbangers believe it was one gang’s attempt to frame another gang.

Beautiful public defender Kelly DeCharme hires Gunner to prove that gangbanger Toby Mills was not in the car and was not the shooter in the drive-by shooting of Lovejoy. To prove Mills was not the shooter, he must find the driver, Rookie Davidson, the young gangbanger who often drives for the gang known as the “Imperial Blues.” The search takes him into the violent, dangerous world of gangbangers in South Central Los Angeles. Gunner hates gangbangers and is not happy about going up against them.

Imperial Blues gang member Smalltime believes Mills is innocent and helps Gunner navigate the world of gangbangers. He warns Gunner to be careful and not cross paths with Cube Clark, a 15 year-old gangbanger even other bangers fear.

Haywood uses the hardboiled structure to explore the troubling subject of the social conditions that cause young boys to join the violent gangs that eventually become their families. Gunner describes the environmental conditions that send boys into the gangbanger’s life to the Assistant District Attorney trying the Mills case and the detective working the case:

Take one kid, male. Put him in a fatherless family of eight that lives in a two-bedroom bungalow full of roaches and bad plumbing. Give his mother a problem with the bottle and a tenth-grade education, and send him to a school where the books are eleven years old and the teachers are too preoccupied with the prospect of getting shot to teach anybody anything. Give him a college-educated older brother who can't afford to buy a two-bedroom home in Lynwood and then move a gold-laden, Four-fifty SL-driving crack dealer into the house next door. What've you got, inevitably? Somebody that learns fast not to give a shit about tomorrow, that's what. A turned-off, tuned-out, full-fledged illiterate dying to take his dead-end future out on the whole goddamn world.

After his experience with the gangbangers, Gunner is unable to 

…revive the blissfully blind hatred he had held for gangbanging and all its participants only five short weeks ago. Deliberately, he thought about drive-bys and baby-faced wannabes, killers without conscience making hand signals for TV cameras, and walls and fences obliterated by overlapping layers of prideful, grotesque graffiti. He thought about crack and PCP, shotguns and Uzis and AK-47s, scars across beautiful throats and heavy black bellies-in short, every bleak, soul-crushing, and heartbreaking aspect of the L.A. street-gang culture could possibly imagine.  

And still the pure, uncomplicated abhorrence he had once known for gangbanging would not come.

The change in his attitude toward bangers reveals that Gunner is a tough private detective with compassion for some in the violent world of criminals, especially for those who are practically babies when they enter the world of gangbangers.

There are no surprises in the novel because Haywood so carefully prepares the reader for the revelations. He again goes against convention in his treatment of the detective’s relationship with women. In Not Long For This World, Gunner falls in love with Darrel’s widow, Claudia Lovejoy.