Saturday, December 16, 2006

Shocking, violent L.A. Rex is a tour de force first novel

108. L.A. Rex, Will Beall. Crime, 12-12, p. 353

In his debut novel, L.A. Rex, Will Beall writes likes Joseph Wambaugh channeling Cormac McCarthy. Like Wambaugh, Beall is an L.A. cop, who knows intimately the streets that he writes about in this disturbing, but gripping novel of avarice and ambition.

The violence so prevalent throughout this novel may not reach the almost lyrical qualities found in a McCarthy novel, but it is as prevalent and, like McCarthy, as shocking, not in its quantity, but in the sheer, matter-of-fact savagery on display. Many of the characters who inhabit this novel seem to relish, to need, the pain they inflict so casually on others. It is a tribute to Beall’s skill as a writer that he taps some primordial desire in the reader; at one point in the novel we’re introduced to a safe, which has a particularly nasty guardian. We can’t wait until that guardian steps on stage again. The moment does come with great satisfaction and a horrifying shudder of pleasure.

There's another scene, that Beall executes with great skill, in which a dog is casually, but violently destroyed. One of Beall's characters tells the dog's owner: I loved that dog and I don't even like you. It gives me shivers even now.

Beall writes well for a first-time author. This appears to be the work of a much more experienced writer. Perhaps the L.A. cop has been refining these lines, this dialogue, these situations for many years as he’s patrolled L.A.’s mean streets. He adroitly manages the novel’s complexity, skipping back and forth in time as he leads us to the violent denouement.

I’ll forgo the plot, except to say there are intricate levels of loyalty and obligation at play. This novels seems Shakespearean in its scope and scale, reminding me of the off the charts violence of King Lear or Macbeth. And it’s that very scope and scale that are the only hesitations I have about this novel. Is it really that bad in parts of L.A.? Hell, if it’s one-quarter that grim, that violent, then the President is putting that dammed wall up in the wrong place. Violence this deeply imbued in man’s heart and soul will inevitably spill from the neighborhoods, where it is largely contained, into society at large. But I guess it’s done that. I’m going back to Kansas.

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