Members of two rival LA gangs fall victim to mysterious heart attacks—all at the exact same time of day—in first-time novelist Steinbaum’s supernatural thriller.
Warren Palmer was an innocent bystander in the war between the Alvarado Street Diablos and the North Rampart Lobos, killed in a drive-by shooting while protecting his 11-year-old son, Seth. Then members from both gangs start croaking from apparent heart failure. Cops are baffled when they eventually spot a pattern: any gangster who’s committed murder is dead the next day at 4 a.m. sharp, with a heart that’s ice cold. Police convince the gangs to stop their fighting, but Lobo Miguel “King” Ruiz’s vendetta against Diablo Alejandro “Face” Torres may once again put Seth, along with his reporter uncle (and Warren’s twin brother) Kevin, in danger. Steinbaum’s novel certainly doesn’t shy away from supernatural elements; for example, right before their hearts seize, doomed gangsters hear a whispering voice recite lines from Poe’s stories. These scenes are a bit repetitive, since narrative backgrounds for several members start to feel like precursors to their inevitable deaths. But Steinbaum wisely focuses his story on the real-world repercussions of Warren’s murder. Seth, for one, develops animosity for all Mexicans but may have a change of heart once befriended and helped by genial Mexican-American tutor Veronica, who doubles as a love interest for struggling alcoholic Kevin. Similarly, Face is a sympathetic Diablo tormented by the knowledge that one of the men who raped his sister is still running free; he also has the gift of foresight, which ultimately proves beneficial. Things really pick up once Kevin links the manner of death to Poe passages (Warren was an avid fan of the author’s works) and seeks the fortuneteller his brother saw, the one who predicted his demise. Sure, there may be a ghost somewhere in the mix, but Steinbaum tells a story that intelligently and respectfully addresses issues of race and violence.
A grounded urban tale that’s enhanced but not dominated by touches of otherworldliness.