Comparables: World Gone By meets Who They Was in this 90,000 plot-driven and character-rich debut novel set in modern day New York.
Hook: A gun-runner for an urban gang sets out to uncover the mystery of his best friend’s death and triggers a chain of events that jeopardizes everyone in his orbit, including him.
Marlon Brown is a gun-runner for the Bloods, whose best friend has been gunned down outside of the gang's established territory. Though the whisper stream comes alive with speculation about who did the deed and why, conjecture isn't enough for Marlon. He has to know. But asking questions breaks every rule of the street, and in doing so, he turns up the flame under long-simmering tensions and resentments.
When the tenuous truce between the rival gangs is shattered, a bloody war of retribution threatens to kill them all. The smart move would be to get out of Dodge, but Marlon’s need for revenge overrides logic and self-preservation. Unaware both sides have agreed to a peace treaty or that its sole term is Marlon’s life, he keeps probing deeper. The closer he comes to the killer, the closer his own death looms.
The whisper stream told that TJ was dead. Shot twice in the face, he’d been left to die in a dirty gutter. No one knew how it had happened or why. They only knew it was true. TJ’s body was found under the elevated train tracks bisecting Flushing Avenue, outside Bloods’ territory. The whisper stream had it that TJ and Freddie Marks had gotten into it over guns and drugs, and things had gone sideways, and that was why TJ was dead, but Marlon wasn’t buying that noise. TJ didn’t deal drugs, and he didn’t truck with guns. TJ was a knife man. Everyone knew that.
“You know the problem with guns, man?” TJ had once said. “Guns run outta bullets. You run outta bullets, and you got no more bullets, your ass be grass, and the Man be the lawnmower. That shit don’t never happen with a knife. You got a knife; you always got a weapon. You got two knives; you got some serious action.
“Guns? I don’t need no guns. So, don’t be talking to me ‘bout no stinking guns.”
This last was said with a distinctly bad Mexican accent, TJ trying like hell to channel the gold-hatted bandito from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. TJ loved watching movies, new and vintage, and loved quoting them even more. So, whatever had resulted in TJ’s death, it hadn’t involved guns. But Marlon thought there might be some truth to the part about Freddie Marks. TJ, Marlon and Freddie had history—none of it good—going back a long way.
It was suicide for Marlon to cross Atlantic Avenue and venture into Saints’ territory, but what had to be, had to be. TJ and Marlon were tight; running buddies whose collective mantra was “my brotha from anotha motha”. Rumor wasn’t going to be enough for Marlon. He didn’t want to listen to “I heard” or “I think”. Marlon had to know, because when your best boy got killed, you owed it him—and yourself—to find out who’d done the killing and why, and then to do something about it.
Freddie Marks kept an apartment on Grove Street, south of Bushwick Avenue, the titular boundary separating Bloods’ territory from Saints’. The buffer zone was established a few weeks after Black Manny’s younger brother went down in a hail of bullets while on his way to the convenience store. The other Bloods vowed vengeance, but Black Manny shocked them by suing for peace instead. They didn’t understand the reasoning behind the decision, but once the overture was accepted, they breathed a collective sigh of relief. The on-going war was taking its toll—in life and revenue. Escalating an already vicious conflict wouldn’t have done either side any good. So, in the summer of that year, Black Manny and Dale Hixon, the Saints’ commander, signed the agreement drawn up by The Professor, and each side retired to its respective side of the agreed-upon boundary. People being people, skirmishes still flared up, but they were few, and quickly resolved.