Bill Beverly’s debut novel Dodgers follows four teens as they ride from Los Angeles to suburban Wisconsin to carry out a hit on a judge in an upcoming drug case. Led by East, a fifteen-year old lookout for a drug dealer, who’s joined by his younger brother Ty, and two others, Michael and Walter, as they make the two thousand mile trek north.
This is like if the kids in Stand by Me went to leave a dead body rather than find one.
Coming-of-age novels can be pretty hit or miss when it comes to my taste. Bad coming-of-age novels like The Catcher in the Rye (yeah, I went there), leave me annoyed because of constant bitching and moaning from the main character. However, if done right, it can evoke feelings of nostalgia or in the case of Dodgers, leave me grateful that I wasn’t in a similar position as East or his brother Ty at their ages. The most I had to worry about was what I wanted for Christmas rather than looking out for cops or being fearful of dying by stray bullets.
The bulk of the novel takes place on the road in the mini-van or in small towns across America. As is often the case, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. When you add four teens to the mix, things will likely go about as smoothly as a stucco waterslide. So, when things go pear-shaped rather quickly, that’s where Beverly’s novel really shines. For a first-time novelist, Beverly really has a handle on how to build and build on tension. Moments where the boys are facing danger completely sucked me into the story and left me reading in huge chunks. I think they call that “un-put-down-able”.
My only real complaint is that the novel builds to what feels like a climax shortly after the mid-way point and then the rest of the story shifts to what feels like a different novel. This may be hard for some people to adjust to because it does feel a bit jarring. I don’t think anything that happens is bad or off-putting per se, but it did seem to drag a little at points.
Dodgers was a great read and definitely something I needed after spending nearly 1,000 pages in post-apocalyptic fiction the book prior. Championed by one of my favorite authors, Don Winslow, Dodgers is a memorable story by an author to watch for in the years ahead.