A debut thriller tells the story of two boys sucked into the underground kingdom of hobos.
In 1968, Glen Roylihan befriends Denny Grabolski, the new kid at school, even though he’s from the wrong side of the tracks. Denny shows Glenn the hobo camp outside of town, and both sixth-graders are intimidated by the men that they find there. Soon after, the boys are approached by a group of hobos led by Stosh “Due North” Grabolski, who turns out to be Denny’s estranged father. He’s come back to teach his son the code by which all hobos live. “Tramps and bums steal and cheat and worse,” says Due North. “Hobos are hard-working men and women drawn to a life on the move, on the tracks.” Denny goes with his father and learns all about flying from trains while evading the bulls (the railway police) and cinder dicks (railroad detectives). But before long, Due North “catches the westbound” (is killed) during an altercation with police—and the fault lies with psychotic hobos who obey no man’s law. Meanwhile, still at home, Glen gets a job at the local gas station with Allen “Socrates” Julien, a Korean War veteran who isn’t afraid to work outside the law in order to achieve justice. Each boy gets an unexpected education about how to walk the righteous path in dangerous times, which will come in handy when the two friends reunite in order to bring justice to the hobos responsible for Due North’s death. In his series opener, Biermeier writes in a clear, muscular prose that captures the gruff demeanors of his characters and their world: “Socrates had hopped the trains home from California after Korea and knew that the tracks hauled just as much bad as good. Many times he had witnessed the bums jumping to the hobo jungle no more than a quarter mile from his door.” The book is rife with violence and other disturbing material that the author does not, perhaps, handle with the proper weight. But the kingdom of hobos he imagines—as replete with White Hats and Black Hats as any Western—will surely be an attractive fantasy for some readers.
A suspense tale set in a well-developed, if dark, world of hobos.