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Peter Blauner (b. 1959) has spent nearly his entire life in New York City. After graduating from Wesleyan University he took a staff job at New York Magazine, where he found the inspiration for his first book, the Edgar Award–winning Slow Motion Riot, in the men and women who work in the city’s probation department. Since then, he has written five more novels: Casino Moon, the New York Times bestseller The Intruder, Man of the Hour, The Last Good Day, and 2006’s Slipping Into Darkness.
Every day, parole officer Steve Baum comes into contact with the most dangero us and frightening people--and finds in them something to salvage. Then he meets Darryl King whose dream is to become king of the Harlem underworld. But in his violent journey to the top, Darryl runs into parole officer. "A gritty, funny picture of the corrosive side of New York."--New York magazine.
It was just after three in the afternoon when the man with the dreadlocks came into the boy's bedroom. All the lights were out, and the floor was strewn with model airplanes and fierce-looking toys called GoBots and Transformers. The boy, whose name was Darrell King, was lying on the Star Wars sheets with one arm thrown over his face.
The man with the dreadlocks knelt over him and put the Smith & Wesson right over the words "The World's Greatest Daddy" on Darrell's T-shirt.
"It's time," he said.
The Ambler adjusted his seat belt, making room for the twelve pounds he'd strapped on in sympathy with his wife's pregnancy, and started to fiddle with the car radio until he got "Love on a Two-Way Street." He liked alot of things about driving in to work on these cold winter afternoons. The stillness of the air and the silence of the other houses as he pulled out of the driveway. The snow and the neighbors' plaster saints on the front lawns. The cars going the opposite direction on the Long Island Expressway. The Christmas decorations outside the Manhattan stores as he drove north from the Midtown Tunnel. The Salvation Army Santa ringing a bell near the 125th Street subway entrance and the wreath over the entrance to the Twenty-Fifth Precinct.
The scene brought back an old-time feeling he still had about the neighborhood. Mom shopping for presents after the holidays at Blumstein's. Listening to the brothers up on their ladders preaching revolution in front of Mr. Michaux's African Unity bookstore. Hearing the choir sing at the Fountain of Living Waters Ministries. Seeing Herman "Helicopter" Knowings stuff a ball down on Connie Hawkins at the Rucker basketball tournament. Accompanying Dad to Rolys Barbershop. The neighbors yelling, "There's colored on TV!" from across the hall when Sammy Davis Jr. showed up on a Bob Hope Christmas Special.
His parents would've hated it that he wound up working around here again. They'd both busted their backs trying to get him through Cardinal Hayes High School and Mercy College. Once, when he was eleven, he got a five-dollar tip for running across the street to buy a pack of cigarettes for one of Nicky Barnes's crew outside Big Wilt's Small's Paradise, and his mother almost beat the black off him, like he'd been dealing smack himself. Hell, no! No child of hers was getting into that mess. He was getting up and out of the city. The day they closed on the house in Roosevelt was the day she knew she could die with a satisfied mind. But when he'd been assigned back to patrol in Harlem, he didn't fight it. A part of him had never really left the neighborhood, never believed it was right to forget where he came from. In his mind's eye, he was still that little kid keeping an eye on the block.
Darrell King, the boy with the gun, didn't go straight to work. It was too early anyway. Instead, he went downtown and found some friends at the Playland video game arcade in Times Square. A couple of them wanted to catch a "Live Love Acts" show at one of the nearby theaters, but Darrell was too distracted thinking about what he had to do tonight. He was seventeen, with hard, bony features and a high, handsome forehead slowly emerging from the soft round pie of a face he'd had as a child. To conquer his nerves, he beamed up to see Scotty in the alley behind the arcade, and when the others came out to get high with him, he lifted his coat flap and showed them what he had tucked in his belt.
"Thirty-eight-caliber revolver," said Darrell. "Just like the police carry."
A damn shame, a wife needing an order of protection against her own husband a week before Christmas. Franklin Sheffield sat in the patrol car parked outside a short brown tenement on 128th Street, missing his wife and his daughter. To need someone guarding your front door against the man you'd married. Snowflakes fell slowly, changing shades as they flitted in and out of the streetlight. They landed on the windshield and melted before his eyes. A family should be together for the holidays, he thought. He hoped he wouldn't be on call on Christmas Day. Though the overtime would help pay for the gold earrings he'd picked out for Felicia at Fortunoff and the real estate taxes going up five percent next year. And they'd already sunk half his overtime for the year into the baby's room. And now Felicia was starting to talk about doing the kitchen over. He was going to need that promotion to sergeant next year and the raise that went with it.
Darrell King and his two friends were coming up on the opposite side of the street. It was after eleven o'clock and below fifteen degrees. The only other people who were out now were the Dumpster divers, the truly hardy ten-dollar-a-pop skeezers and five-dollar-a-bottle crack slingers, and they were mostly gathered around a trash can fire around the corner, trying to stay warm. Darrell walked briskly, a couple of steps ahead of his friends. Smoke streamed out of his mouth, and the gun rode high in the waistband under his coat. The police car was only half a block away now, just out of range of the streetlight.
"You're not gonna do it," the bigger of Darrell's two friends, Bobby "House" Kirk taunted him. "You ain't got the heart."
"Watch me," Darrell King said.
The car's heater was starting to make Franklin feel sick to his stomach and sweaty, so he turned it down a little and put his hat on. There was a light rap on the window and he looked up. A skinny young kid with a flattop hairdo and a harelip was staring at him and saying something. Franklin rolled down the window to hear him.
"Yo," the kid said.
"What's up?" Franklin gave him his hard-ass face, the one that in his mind made him look like Fred "The Hammer" Williamson in Black Caesar.
Meanwhile, Darrell and Bobby Kirk were sneaking around to the other side of the car.
Bones throbbing deep inside his skull, Darrell steadied himself against the door frame. Then he lifted his shirt to pull the gun out of his waistband. Just as he started to get a grip on the handle, though, the cop turned and looked straight at him. And for a second, he could've sworn the brother didn't look angry or surprised, but almost disappointed.
Darrell yanked hard on the gun, but it stayed stuck in his waistband, pulling the crotch seam of his jeans up into the nether region between his balls and ass. Everything seemed to slow down, like a frame-by-frame video crawl. The cop fumbling for his own gun. Aaron's eyes wide-walling as he mouthed "OH, SHIT!" in an underwater voice. Bobby flailing wildly at his shoulder and trying to take the gat from him, so he could do the job right.
The thirty-eight finally jerked free, and Darrell extended his arm. He saw the cop's eyes focus on the hole, ready for the muzzle flash. And each time he pulled the trigger, the police car lit up like a furnace in the snow.
Later on that night, Darrell told his family what happened while they sat around chilling out on weed and the Yule log on TV.
"His hat flew off, like 'bing,' the first time I sparked him up," Darrell said. "And I seen Aaron jump back. You know what I'm saying? I pushed that nigger's wig back. Aaron was like, 'Oh, shit, man, I seen his brains. I seen that nigger's brains come flying outta his head-'?"
"What you mean 'nigger'?" Darrell's older sister, Joanna, turned slowly to look at him. "You mean, like a brother?"
Darrell sat up. "Yeah, I just said, 'I pushed that nigger's wig back-'?"
"But Darrell, that cop who was ripping off our crack house was a white boy. Didn't Winston done tell you he was a blondie?"
Darrell's face went dim. It was like the moment when a TV set went off and all the light shrank down to a hard little point in the middle of the screen.
"Damn," his sister said. "That's a fucked-up way to start the holiday."
Excerpted from Slow Motion Riot by Peter Blauner Copyright © 1991 by Peter Blauner. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted January 31, 2013
Blauner belongs to that group of writers who excel at honing the edge of large city life: it feels big, dangerous, and completely outside the control of any individual, much like a slow motion riot in fact. Originally published in 1991, this novel won an Edgar and was named a NYT International Book of the Year. Now, on the occasion of its publication as an ebook by Open Road Media, it is being reoffered to the reading public. For those of you who like your reads gritty and real, don’t miss it this time around.
The novel opens in a Probation Office where an idealistic young man, Baum (or Bomb, as he is called by some), hopes to make a difference and tells of his clients--the felons and the misdemeanors. There is true madness here, and despair and confusion, and a withering boredom borne of ignorance. The story hinges on three of Baum’s clients, and one of his coworkers. In a series of chapters much like looking into separate apartments throughout the city, we are privy to the thinking and activities of these individuals, which gives us an insight Baum doesn’t necessarily share. We sense violence on its way long before it is played out.
Blauner calls his books social novels with an element of suspense. That sounds right. You will want to read what Blauner himself says about his own books, since his style is clear and he’s willing to share. He is deliberate in his choices and his constructions are not haphazard. It takes him several years to write a book, of which this is only the first. You may find you would like to follow him through his oeuvre, for he has chosen a distinct subject area that may be underserved in our literature. I note that Blauner says his books sold better in Europe than in America at first.
This book was written twenty years ago, and while it is beginning to have some telltale signs of age, one could read it as current. In fact, the social conscious of the young is arguably stronger today than it was then, and for this reason, it may be just the right dose of highly embroidered imagination for a young market. I recommend this title, or chose another of his later novels. This is an unusual writer who has something unique to offer, and it would be a shame to overlook him in the rush for the next bestseller.
Posted April 11, 2011
If you've never read a Blauner book, I'd recommend starting with this one or Slipping Into Darkness. You'd be hard-pressed, though, to go wrong with any of his novels. His books are gritty, honest, and urban. And beautiful. I read a lot of crime fiction and mystery and there are few writers who can turn a phrase or command the language in such a deep way. Slow Motion Riot deals with a burned out NYC probation officer named Steven Baum - a man bent on making a difference in the world. His newest client is a drug-addicted killer who violates parole. And a very scary man.
What makes this one different is how deeply Blauner seems to understand his characters. It's as if he's one of them.
I've read two. On to number three.
Posted May 20, 2012
No text was provided for this review.