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A carefully plotted mob thriller that will leave its readers faintly exhilarated, though also unable to remember who exactly was good and bad—yet not particularly disappointed by that fact.

Jackson Tremain ably takes up where his grandfather and family patriarch King left off, incorporating perhaps a touch more ennui to the still burgeoning Tremain litany of blood, mayhem, and intrigue. Johnson’s follow-up features the ailing hero, King, of his first novel (Standing at the Scratch Line, 1998) in a cameo role, albeit one that demonstrates a Wizard of Oz–like ability to predict his estranged grandson’s awakening. Tremain, a young, African-American city manager, must find the guts to escape the emasculating perils of bureaucracy and summon up the wherewithal to protect his grandfather’s legacy. He escapes the bonds of mediocrity, and, rest assured, battles nobly, facing off against a variety of colorful, immoral louts. The story is set mainly in the summer of 1982, with background information incorporated through a series of flashbacks from the ’50s and the ’60s that feature vignettes from Tremain’s summers at his grandfather’s side. The younger man is aided in his epic quest for personal and familial salvation by an astonishingly loyal group of friends and acquaintances, some having been steeped in Tremain family struggles for 50 years, others merely innocent by-standers roused into Rambo-like righteous indignation. It seems, in fact, that the entire law-abiding Oakland community will rise up and defend one of their own when threatened by such obviously malignant forces. With a panoply of bars, trendy restaurants, dusty Mexican towns and city streets, Johnson has created an intricate page turner that lacks any pretense of moral or ethical complexity.

There is good and there is evil. Jackson Tremain will identify one from the other, and right the wrong, stirring an expectant reader’s heartbeat along the way.

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 2002
ISBN: 0-375-50567-9
Page count: 784pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2002