An interesting twist on LA crime fiction
The Crenshaw Six are a small but up-and-coming gang in South Central LA who have recently been drawn into an escalating war between rival drug cartels. To outsiders, the Crenshaw Six appear to be led by a man named Garcia… but what no one has figured out is that the gang’s real leader (and secret weapon) is Garcia’s girlfriend, a brilliant young woman named Lola. Lola has mastered playing the role of submissive girlfriend, and in the man’s world she inhabits she is consistently underestimated. But in truth she is much, much smarter — and in many ways tougher and more ruthless — than any of the men around her, and as the gang is increasingly sucked into a world of high-stakes betrayal and brutal violence, her skills and leadership become their only hope of survival.
It took me a while to get around to reading this novel — another case of on Kindle, can’t see it on a shelf, so out of mind… I’m very glad that I finally got to it, though: this is a very good, interesting and well-written crime novel.
This novel is about many things: aside from the plot itself, about some missing heroin and lots of missing cash, the novel touches upon a number of other topics. Drug policy and rehabilitation, race relations in Los Angeles, (toxic) masculinity, and the “place” of women in society — both everyday and also within the communities and gangs of Los Angeles. The ways in which culture, home and society place expectations on the shoulders of citizens; but also the ways in which those in power manipulate the system to their own ends. Sometimes, these manipulations are purely for personal gain, but at others there is an element of assuaging a guilty conscience. The author doesn’t hammer the reader with social commentary, but the story is crafted in a way to make the reader think, and also challenge some of their own expectations and impressions.
Lola Vasquez is an unusual, compelling protagonist: she’s more ruthless than many male gang leaders we’ve read about, more calculating and certainly more focused. Of course, part of the point is to reinforce the fact that women often have to do more to be seen as remotely as competent/capable as their male peers. There are times when her calculations — regarding tactics or the appearance of strength — are quite chilling, when it comes down to family members.
She’s not a one-dimensional anti-heroine, though. Her past and history with her mother has influenced her own sense of justice and what it means to be a good person. I don’t want to spoil the plot or side-plots, but there are a number of instances when Lola really steps up as, well, just a decent human being — albeit, her ultimate solution to one problem is… well, very Lola. (Yes, that is a vague paragraph, but read the novel and you’ll understand what I mean.)
The author’s prose is very good: sparse, clear and accessible. The pacing was interesting — rather than the break-neck approach storytelling of many crime and thriller authors, Lola has a more measured pace, without being slow or dragging. “Focused” is probably the best word to describe the pacing and story momentum. The plot never overshadows character development, and vice versa. It’s a very well-balanced novel.
I can easily see this novel appealing to fans of Michael Connelly, but also fans of TV shows like The Shield. I really enjoyed Lola, and am very much looking forward to reading the follow-up, American Heroin (out next month).
Lola is published in North America by Broadway Books, and in the UK by Point Blank/Oneworld. The next novel in the series, American Heroin, is due to be published by Broadway Books (February 19th), and Point Blank (February 14th).