Vachss’ very first novel, often plundered for his later fiction (That’s How I Roll, 2012, etc.) but never before published, traces the rise, or fall, of a homegrown terrorist.
To the untrained eye, Wesley never looks like anything but a loser. Headed for conviction in a gang fight, he agrees to enlist in the service instead of going to jail, but this time, the army doesn’t build men, and he’s tossed out of Korea with an undesirable discharge and soon headed for prison again. He falls under the sway of Carmine Trentoni, a gang leader who becomes his role model and guru, dispensing yards of Vachss’ trademark bitter wisdom (“think about the person you hate most in the world and smile”). Trentoni aims to turn Wesley into his legacy, an ice-cold hit man who’ll carry on the mobster’s enduring battle against the Man. Once he’s outlived his mentor and served his time, Wesley follows Trentoni’s detailed instructions, finding the cash Trentoni hid, contacting the mysterious gang lord Mr. Petraglia and setting up a rapid series of hits as precisely planned as they are brutal. But Wesley’s nihilism is deeper than Trentoni’s, and his escalating war against the establishment claims hundreds of victims: “[t]he people in the crowd on West 51st who got bombed by the grenade, the junkies blown up by the booby-trapped bag, whoever was within the fallout range of the building on Chrystie, the methadone clinic, the girl in the massage parlor….” After watching the effects of his assassination of Haitian dictator Papa Du’s son, Wesley realizes that not even his scorched-earth violence can bring about political change, and he prepares his own chilling exit.
History has caught up to Wesley’s bleak odyssey, repeatedly rejected for publication decades ago but now unnervingly prescient.