Safe by Ryan Gattis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Ricky Mendoza, Junior, wasn’t my real name, just one I took as my legal back when it seemed smart to. Like, the real me died back when I changed it and what’s left of me just floats.”
Everybody calls him Ghost.
Sometimes a man has to move on from a name and start over. A new name is like shedding your skin. It is a chance to redeem and be someone closer to whom you wanted to be before things went sideways.
Ghost is an addict who doesn’t use.
A man takes a chance on him, teaches him how to crack safes, and now Ghost is about to disappoint him.
”Betraying this man, I’ve never hated myself so much in my life as now. I feel shame bursting up inside me, telling me, once a junkie, always a junkie. Telling me, I can’t ever be loved, or trusted, Telling me, I’ll break his world and everything in it if I haven’t already stolen it first.
It’s what I am.
I grab a big breath and use it to try to kill this negativity inside me. Or at least get it quieter. Because if I don’t, I’ll spiral. And I can’t do that. Not now.”
The DEA calls him and needs a safe popped at a drug house. Ghost has lost the ability to smell, and he knows what that means. The Big C is back, growing tumors in his brain, but before he checks out he decides he needs to do something to help others. It is 2008, the housing crises is cresting, and people, good people, are losing their homes.
He takes $887,000 from the safe.
He’s going to pay off some mortgages. He is a street wise Robin Hood on a mission of self-destruction.
Time has become compressed. Between the DEA and the drug dealers Rooster and Glasses, from whom he stole, he knows it is only a matter of time before they catch up with him. He has to keep moving and stretch his life. He has to steal more.
Glasses wants out. He has a son now who turns him all gooey inside. ”I feel like there’s a secret room inside him, a room inside a room even, one that I can fill up with good things and advice, stuff he should know if I talk to him at night like this. The more I do it, the more I can build a voice in the back of his brain that will guide him through everything even when I’m not here.”
The streets have left their scars on Glasses. Rooster has taught him a lot. Glassas wants to pass his knowledge to his son without his son having to experience the streets. He has to get his son away from all of this, and the only way he can do that is if he burns Rooster down. The DEA has frozen all his assets, all that money Glasses put into Best Buy stock when it was cheap. The only way he gets it back is if he gives them Rooster.
Oddly enough, Ghost and Glasses both end up working for the DEA, but pulling strings from different ends. As Ghost drives around LA, listening to a mixtape from his dead girlfriend, Rose, and Glasses contemplates how best to stay alive while playing the role of Benedict Arnold, little do they know they are on a collision course that will leave one or both of them dead.
”It’s Rose’s fault that I think stories are one of the most powerful things in the world. More powerful than knives and surgeries. More powerful than bullets. Because stories live past you. Stories can get into other people and live there too. Stories are like glasses, kind of. They change how you see the world.”
I’ve never read Ryan Gattis before. Not only was I impressed by the deft way he handled this duel plot, but also how he humanized monsters. Because most people, even bad people, aren’t monsters once you peel back the bark they have built between themselves and the world. They have been hurt. They have been forced to hurt. They are caught in a tragic play, and survival is paramount. They are capable of terrible acts, but they are also capable of extending compassion, as well. They are broken human beings who, if given the choice, would live a different life, but early on the street grabbed them and never let go. They learned to survive and became people they were never meant to be. This is a hardboiled, gritty, street wise novel that is not only heart pounding thrilling, but also incredibly moving.
FSG sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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