Not quite as predictable as it sounds—in spite of Shakespeare and West Side Story—and in spite of the soap-operatic start: Jones’s (The Bridge, 2003, etc.) tale of what looks like doomed love has enough everyday North Philadelphia grit to keep readers intent on the doings.
Keisha Anderson is daughter of a preacher, a man of strong personality in a part of town where strength overshadowed faith; he was a man who left little oxygen in the room. Her mother was withdrawn, crushed by a squandered youth and little opportunity. So Keisha looked to the “streets whose forbidden pleasure she longed to taste,” particularly Jamal Nichols, son of the local dispenser of drugs and mayhem. He was a young man who’d saved her dignity during an assault, a man of “broad shoulders . . . [and a] torso tapering down to a small waist.” “There was something forbidden about the man she loved . . . [She] wondered if he was a savior.” Readers may wonder, too, for Jamal is a gunny in the hire of his father, on order to take out Keisha’s antidrug crusading father. But not all is as it seems: Jamal, despite his posturing, has no intention of killing Reverend Anderson. Nor is anything clear about the other players, with their hidden motives for ruinous acts. Yet Jones doesn’t hold everything for a last-minute denouement: he leaks the right amount of information for the story to take shape as it progresses. The pace is enough to make readers beg for beta-blockers, with colliding episodes of vengeance and brutality as savvy cops try to unravel the deaths of two policemen in the wake of a shooting that Jamal gets framed for. He and Keisha take flight, while the rest of the cast circles and snarls.
Much zip and zing, dodging and darting: a plainly exciting story despite the melo in the drama. But the larger social context—the grab for allegory—catches only smoke.