Quick Review: AMERICAN HEROIN by Melissa Scrivner Love (Crown)

lovems-lv2-americanheroinusTurf wars, family, the Cartels… Lola’s got a full plate

A gritty, high-octane thriller about a brilliant woman who will stop at nothing to protect her growing drug empire, even if she has to go to war with a rival cartel… or her own family

It took sacrifice, pain, and more than a few dead bodies, but Lola has clawed her way to the top of her South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. Her gang has grown beyond a few trusted soldiers into a full-fledged empire, and the influx of cash has opened up a world that she has never known — one where her daughter can attend a good school, where her mother can live in safety, and where Lola can finally dream of a better life. But with great opportunity comes great risk, and as Lola ascends the hierarchy of the city’s underworld she attracts the attention of a dangerous new cartel who sees her as their greatest obstacle to dominance. Soon Lola finds herself sucked into a deadly all-out drug war that threatens to destroy everything she’s built.

But even as Lola readies to go to war, she learns that the greatest threat may not be a rival drug lord but a danger far closer to home: her own brother.

Melissa Scrivner Love’s debut, Lola, introduced one of the most interesting new crime/thriller characters: the eponymous resident of South Central, the secret leader of the Crenshaw Six, a small gang of bangers peddling drugs and engaging in turf wars and petty crime. Over the course of that novel, she clawed her way out into the open, took on some heavy hitters, and survived. In American Heroin, we get the next act in Lola’s life as a gang leader, as she faces challenges and threats from all sides. Another great novel.

It’s a little difficult to spoil certain elements of the first novel when reviewing this one. Lola has legally adopted a girl whose mother was a junky, with the help of her crooked lawyer partner. With her growing wealth (we quickly learn that business has good for Lola’s crew), she has put Lucy into a private school in the “white side” of LA. She struggles with navigating this very different world, and her constant sense of not belonging; as well as her growing concern about what it will do to Lucy, and how her daughter will fit in with kids who haven’t experienced anything remotely as harrowing and horrifying as Lucy has. It was interesting seeing how she changes her behaviour in an (oft futile) attempt to blend in. Fiercely loyal to her roots, she nevertheless comes to welcome the relative security of being in the safer neighbourhoods and regions of the city. In additional family drama, Lola continues to carry her guilt and responsibility for her brother’s incarceration; while also attempting to enforce boundaries with her newly-clean mother.

As mentioned, business is good. Lola’s enterprises are expanding, with Andrea providing legal cover for the various illicit endeavours. However, someone seems to have sold Lola out to a cartel, who have put a bounty on her head. Lola, convinced it was Andrea, decides to get to the bottom of her partner’s past — something that has always been a mystery to her. It was really interesting getting more of Andrea’s backstory. It’s also interesting to see Lola’s working relationship with her crew — at times motherly, at other times tough-as-nails undisputed leader. She’s protective of her men, but not shy about issuing brutal justice for mistakes and those who cross her. This duality is something she is concerned about bleeding into her family life, and as a new mother she constantly questions her approach to raising Lucy.

The author does a great job of bringing this slice of Los Angeles alive on the page: its hardships, its kindnesses, the hunger to get out and do better. All of her characters are well-rounded and well-drawn. The novel moves at a good clip, but never feels rushed. The various strands of the story come together in another shocking ending.

Definitely recommended for any fan of crime fiction, and/or fiction set in Los Angeles. I enjoyed this, and I really hope that there’s another Lola novel in the works. (If not, I’ll still read anything the author writes next.)


American Heroin is out now, published by Crown in North America and Point Blank in the UK.

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