From Young (Off the Grid, 2013, etc.), an intense police procedural focusing on the murders of Sonoma County gang members orchestrated from within Pelican Bay State Prison, one of California’s maximum security facilities.
An execution-style murder goes down after dark at an abandoned winery. When police detective Tom Kagan arrives at the scene, he sees the gang-tatted dead body and thinks, “This death, like all the others, gives me a reason to live.” Did someone within the victim’s own organization––the Nuestra Familia––pull the trigger, or was the shooter a member of a rival Latino gang? Readers will know the answer (the book’s title is a clue) before Kagan and his crew do, but no matter; the novel is riveting from the opening shot to the parting rounds of bullets. As the body count rises inside and outside of Pelican Bay, Kagan’s reason to live expands to include protecting his wife against the vividly etched, evil man named Ghost. The chilling deadness of Ghost’s eyes and his proclamations haunt Kagan. A lifer, the prisoner exerts tremendous gang control behind bars and beyond them; he has “arms and legs out on the street.” Kagan, emotionally scarred from a past family tragedy, has a long-simmering personal stake in making sure Ghost gets his due instead of his dreams––“cloudless blue skies, long sandy beaches, and the best brews money could buy. And women. Plenty of women.” The author, a 26-year veteran of the Santa Rosa Police Department, writes convincingly about how gang members in and out of prison think; how they communicate with one another; and how they manipulate underlings, wives and other family members. He makes a convincing case that sometimes the only way a gang member can stay alive is to take someone’s “wind”––“to make sure he doesn’t breathe anymore.” Young is also fluent in police-speak—law enforcement procedures, dialogue and actions ring true—and character building: Female characters are smart, tough and capable, while relationships seem genuine, and clichéd male/female encounters are absent, in spite of the occasional whiff of perfume.
A fast-paced, smartly written crime story that’s only the first shot in what could be a high-octane series.