SAFE by Ryan Gattis


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A safecracker tries to avoid a gang of drug dealers long enough to make one last score.

Ricky Mendoza Jr., the hero of Gattis’ sixth book (All Involved, 2015, etc.), is a safecracker with the nickname Ghost, which evokes both his secrecy and his mordant sensibility. As the story opens, he’s determined to skim some money for “somebody who needs it” during a DEA raid of an LA stash house. This risks the ire of his federal employers but something even worse from the gangsters from Southern California and Mexico who spot him leaving the house with a suspicious bag. Rudolfo, the novel’s second narrator, is a gangster who’s watching Ricky but who has his own personal interests and relationship with the Drug Enforcement Administration to maintain. Between the two men, Gattis’ novel is full of streetwise observations about the drug trade, from secretive communication methods to avoid wiretaps (sign language) to the cartel’s cruel punishments for misbehavior (barrels, gasoline). But Ricky also has a tender side: he’s a cancer survivor and recovering addict who can’t shake the memory of his late girlfriend, Rose. (Throughout the novel he turns to a mix tape of old-school punk rock Rose made him.) Plus, the novel is set across three days in September 2008, just as the housing market is cratering, and Ricky is eager to provide some financial support to a few incipient Great Recession victims. The narrative back and forth between Ricky and Rudolfo is a bit out of balance—Ricky is clearly the better-drawn figure—and the prose gets soft whenever Ricky does. (“The world is going to be better off without any more of me in it, but it sure could have used a lot more of her.”) But the tension about Ricky’s fate remains steady to the novel’s somber, surprising conclusion, which justifies the neo-noirish mood he cultivates.

A moody yarn that cannily merges punk-rock world weariness and real-world criminality.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-374-25337-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2017


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