By Bill Beverly – A modern crime classic in the tradition of Richard Price’s Clockers, Dodgers is the story of a youthful soldier in the south Los Angeles drug trade. East, a black 16-year-old, is a yardman for a drug house, which means he runs a team of younger boys who look out for approaching trouble, 24 hours a day.
Somehow, trouble slips past them, and when the police converge on the house, sirens shrieking, East narrowly escapes. But before he flees, the curious younger girl who has approached him is caught in the crossfire and dies before his eyes, an innocent whose death he cannot shake.
After the raid, of course, the house is compromised, and the drug lord gives East a new assignment. He and three others are to drive to Wisconsin and kill a man about to testify in Los Angeles against one of the gang leaders. In the great American tradition of road trips, East heads east on a fateful journey with an ill-assorted group of companions: Michael Wilson, a self-assured, one-time UCLA student who thinks he’s by far the intellectual superior of the other boys; Walter, an overweight age-peer of East’s with an aptitude for electronic crime and a greater understanding of the big picture; and, unexpectedly, East’s younger brother Ty, a stone killer at age 13 whose internal dynamics East cannot begin to comprehend.
The interactions among the four are full of youthful wit and jockeying for position, even though the outcome of the journey is uncertain and potentially catastrophic. The last piece of advice they receive before leaving LA? “Don’t make no friends.”
The book takes its title from the boys’ purchases at the sports apparel store they visit before their departure. There they purchase shirts and caps emblazoned with the logos of the Los Angeles Dodgers, not because East or the others have ever cared about the team personally, but because “White people love baseball. White people love the Dodgers.”
The trip across America and the notice four young black men arouse among the residents of the middle-America states—and the fear of the notice they may arouse—are significant and compelling features of the plot, while he nuanced depiction of East’s mental state makes for a rich and engaging reader experience.
Beverly is a teacher of American literature and writing at Trinity University in Washington, D.C., and the quality of his writing is a great strength of the book. Take this simple description: “There was a gas station. The lights in the cold made the cars gleam like licked suckers.” Any author who can conjure up an image like that deserves to be savored.
A longer version of this review previously appeared on CrimeFictionLover.com.