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Lola: Winner of the John Creasey New Blood Dagger for Best Debut Crime Novel of 2018

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9781786070869: Lola: Winner of the John Creasey New Blood Dagger for Best Debut Crime Novel of 2018
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ONE

HEAT

Lola stands across the craggy square of backyard she shares with Garcia. He mans the grill, rusted tongs and Corona with lime in hand, making the center of a cluster of men, their biceps bare and beaded with sweat, Crenshaw Six tattoos evident in their standard uniform of wife-beaters and torn cargo pants. If Lola were alone with Garcia, she would take her turn over the smoking meat, too,but as afternoon transforms Huntington Park from light to shadow, Lola stays away from the heat. Her place now is at the center of a cluster of women, their necks craning toward any high-pitched squeak that might be gossip, each one standing with a single hip cocked, as if at any second someone might place a sleeping child there for comfort.

Kim speaks loudest, her voice loose change clinking on delicate glass.

“Chicas gotta be buzzin’ around, like we don’t know what game they runnin’. I were you, Lola, I’d tell that bitch to stay the fuck away from my man.”

Lola’s eyes find a younger girl, no more than seventeen, weaving too close to the men, Garcia in particular. Lola can’t blame her. The entire neighborhood is aware of Garcia’s chosen profession.

In Huntington Park, a ghetto suburb of Los Angeles just east of South Central, a legit man has two choices: landscaping for off-the-books Westside white cash, or sweating through twelve-hour shifts at a factory in Vernon. The lucky factory bodies get Sara Lee; the unlucky are stuck with the fat-rendering plants, where they operate gleaming metal machines that dissolve flesh and bone to liquid.

Garcia does not make his living either way, because he is not a legit man. He is the leader of the Crenshaw Six. Everyone at this barbecue could recite the corners the gang controls, from the retirement home off Gage and State to the middle-school crossing at Marconi. Despite this knowledge, no one is willing to risk a good rack of ribs and a cold Corona over a few moral scruples. Drugs are an understandable, if not respectable, way to make a living in the ghettos of Los Angeles, and the Crenshaw Six members have their own rules—no selling to kids, no soliciting to old folks unless they’re in pain. The gang’s code keeps the community appeased, and everyone, those who make their living legally and those who rely on committing felonies to survive, coexists. Everyone likes ribs, Lola had told Garcia when she first brought up the idea of throwing a party.

Garcia didn’t want to host this barbecue. He was tired from work, business being good, though neither one of them would ever use that expression for fear of the inevitable fall from success. Their tiny nugget of South Central Los Angeles—or so they consider it, even though they’ve just missed the eastern border—with its strip mall Laundromats, grease-slicked taquerias, and glass-fronted bail bond offices, is no Wall Street. There are no second chances, no getting back on one’s feet. Nobody here has enough time for a comeback. Instead of minimum sentences at white-collar resorts, people here get bullets to the head, either victims of circumstance or mere collateral damage. The success stories are few and far between, and they never last.

Still, Lola had told Garcia they should spend a little of their extra cash, show their neighbors a good time. Like normal people who’ve had some good fortune—dole out free food and beer, generate some goodwill and community spirit. She had won what never became an argument, Garcia shrugging and saying, “I’ll buy the meat.”

Now, watching the younger girl scout her man, Lola feels a surge of something she can’t name. Someone wants what she, Lola, has. Garcia, aside from a passing glance at tits and ass, ignores the girl. The other men follow suit, sizing her up, approving her, then continuing to talk what Lola assumes is business, although she can’t hear over her circle of women, squawking about who’s packed on pounds and which neighborhood nail salons overcharge.

Lola nods agreement—she’ll never go back to Oasis Nails—then continues to watch the men. Jorge, a round-faced banger in baggy jeans, his ball cap turned backward, texts on one of the Crenshaw Six’s jailbroken iPhones. Because the phones don’t connect to any mainstream network, Jorge is free to say what he wants. Marcos, a wiry, hardened man with sunken black eyes, sneaks an undercooked rib from the grill and tears into it with pointy teeth. At his feet, Valentine, the pit bull Lola stole from a fighting ring a year ago, waits for a stray piece of flesh. The dog, Lola’s baby girl, is the sole female allowed around the grill. Valentine must have recognized an outsider in Marcos, the only member of the Crenshaw Six to have done time, six years in federal max when he was arrested on his eighteenth birthday. Marcos has been out over three years. Still, he eats when there is food, sleeps when there is a chair, fucks when a girl presents herself, as this girl is doing now. Lola guesses Marcos is eating first because he, like the other men, knows the girl will be there whenever he decides to acknowledge her. The ribs, however, will disappear into hungry neighborhood mouths as soon as Garcia transfers them from grill to platter.

Lola wants to pull the prowling girl aside, tell her if she wants to try to screw one of these bangers, fine, but stalking back and forth like a wannabe ghetto runway model is not the way.

“Girl knows to go after the leader,” Kim interrupts, catching Lola staring.

“She’s nothing,” Lola says.

“He’s been got before, is all,” Kim says, because before Garcia was Lola’s, he belonged to Kim. “Bet if Carlos were here, she’d be after him, too. Women like that, they always want the man in charge.”

The women around them freeze, knowing Kim’s words are meant to wound Lola, who has dated two gang leaders in quick succession. But all Lola feels is a quick drop of her heart, thinking of Carlos, Kim’s older brother, who was the leader of the Crenshaw Six before he was murdered three years ago. Back then Carlos was Lola’s man, and Garcia was Kim’s. The Crenshaw Six was the Crenshaw Four, with only Carlos, Garcia, Jorge, and Marcos as members. Under Carlos’s reign, the gang didn’t control any corners, instead relying on sticking up other gangs over shitty coffee tables used to cut coke and heroin. It should have surprised no one that Carlos wound up shot in the face, dumped in the Angeles National Forest along with countless other bodies not expected to be missed.

Kim misses Carlos, though, calling the cops once a month for updates on his as-of-yet unsolved case. Lola feels for Kim. Carlos was charismatic, buoyant, beloved by the neighborhood, Lola included. Yet Kim is the only one who doesn’t seem to realize the cops aren’t going to do shit to find out who killed some brown ghetto Robin Hood.

“Carlos were here, he’d have burned the meat ’cause he’d be off talking to everyone,” Lola says now, diffusing the tension and scattering titters of laughter through the ladies of the neighborhood.

“Or eating my chocolate cake.” Kim puffs up, never missing a chance to bring up the one recipe she has that’s renowned in their twenty square blocks of Los Angeles.

“You bring some of that today, Kim?” a neighborhood woman asks.

“Damn right I did,” Kim says to a resounding chorus of “that’s rights” and “shit yeahs.” Kim discusses the dessert she brought to the barbecue with the same intensity she used when discussing the girl trolling Garcia. “Not as good as Lola’s,” Kim adds, as if making the best chocolate cake in the neighborhood is all Lola needs to keep her happy in her little backyard of barrio heaven.

Lola hears awkward murmurs from the other women, each of them split somewhere between protests and agreement. They don’t want to insult Kim or Lola, but they know Kim makes a better cake.

“I always use your recipe,” Lola says to Kim, smoothing over the moment.

“Oh.” Kim blushes, or maybe she’s just wearing too much makeup. “Well, you got better things to do, don’t you? College and all.”

Lola attended two night classes at East Los Angeles Community College before Carlos died. This fact has somehow cemented her as a college girl, despite her dropping out after her former boyfriend’s murder, and the term is not necessarily a compliment. Here in Huntington Park, “college girl” means Lola dared to want more. She knows none of these women has a clue what she does all day. Lola doesn’t mind. She prefers the periphery, where she can move without notice.

“Must be why you haven’t gotten around to pulling the weeds around the flower bed,” Kim continues, gesturing with her bloodred press-on nails to a patch of dirt Lola has never bothered to tend.

“That was Carlos’s thing,” Lola says, because when he was alive, the backyard of this rental house used to burst with sunflowers. Garcia doesn’t know how to plant, and Lola doesn’t know how to tend, so together they keep the grass clipped and, for the most part, stay on the concrete that borders the back of the house.

“Yeah,” Kim agrees. “Garcia got one of those black thumbs, kills every green thing he touches,” she explains to the other women, reminding them she once shared a home with Lola’s man.

Lola steals another glance at Garcia now, only to find him looking back at her. They smile at each other—a simple, shy smile, even after three years together. She wonders if tragedy would change her feelings toward him. She wonders when they will be tested, if the day will come when they look at each other and think, Who the fuck is that person I thought I knew?

“What’s up?” Lola hears the unmistakable half grin in the voice of her baby brother, Hector, who has emerged from her kitchen with a can of salt and a bag of limes. Either item could be for the meat or for the beer, but his question is, without a doubt, directed at the ghetto girl.

“Nothing. Hungry,” the girl purrs.

The other men give Hector smacking pats on the back and grunts of approval. He is one of them, a fact Lola had to make peace with years ago. Hector has been her baby brother since she was eight years old, and Maria Vasquez ended up queasy and pregnant from one of the nameless men who rotated out of their house every couple of weeks. No one knows Hector’s father’s identity, which is fine with Lola. He is her brother, even if they don’t share a father. Lola knows her own father’s first name—Enrique—but since he left two months after her birth, she tells herself she doesn’t care enough to remember his last.

Now, Lola feels a glimmer of hope that eighteen-year-old Hector might settle down with someone from the neighborhood, someone close to his age, someone who would keep him near her, Lola. Then Lola sees the look her baby brother shoots at her, wanting to make sure his sister is watching, and she realizes his flirting is all for show. Hector has a girl in the wrong part of town, and he knows Lola doesn’t approve of her. In his own way, Hector is trying to console Lola by flirting with this neighborhood skank. The realization both angers and touches Lola.

“Your brother’s puttin’ on a show,” Kim remarks.

Lola is fine with Kim crying over Carlos’s flower bed and reminding the neighborhood Lola’s man used to fuck her. Kim is not allowed to comment on Lola’s baby brother, Lola decides now, her face flushing. She needs an escape.

She spots the Amaros ducking through the chain-link fence, the husband and wife pair moving with bowed heads. They are middle-aged, which here means early forties, with crinkled potato chip skin and eyes sunk too deep in their faces. They are old before their time, people outside South Central would say, but here they just are.

“Gonna say hi to the Amaros,” Lola gives her excuse to Kim and the other women.

“Tacos,” Juan Amaro says in greeting, and, on cue, his wife, Juanita, holds up a large foil pan. The Amaros are the only guests to have brought a disposable dish. They own a combination bodega and taco stand, getting all their supplies below cost from a shady distant cousin. Everyone else will have to wait while Lola soaks their respective glass dishes in warm, soapy water and gives them back, streaked with residual cheese scabs from their neighbors’ casseroles and potluck enchiladas, but the Amaros can make a quick escape.

Lola reaches for the tacos as she smiles her welcome.

“Chicken, beef, and pork. There wasn’t any good fish today,” Juanita Amaro says, an apology present in her soft voice.

“Don’t need it, with all this,” Lola says.

“Told her not to worry about it,” Juan mutters, and Juanita bows her head deeper, eyes on her feet. They’re only a few miles from the Pacific, but it might as well be a world—all the good stuff goes to the Westside, where celebrity chefs in Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu pluck the finest from the day’s catch.

“I’ll take these to the kitchen,” Lola says. She sees a shadow at the corner of Juanita Amaro’s skirt. Big brown eyes emerge from behind the cotton, and there is the Amaros’ granddaughter. Lola has only seen the girl, whose name she can’t remember now, once or twice before, perched on a corner stool in her grandparents’ bodega, punching numbers into an old dead adding machine.

“Lucy, greet your hostess.” Juanita nudges her granddaughter forward, but Lucy clings to the woman’s cotton skirt.

Lucy. That’s the girl’s name. Lucy belongs to the Amaros’ junkie daughter, Rosie, who appeared in Huntington Park last month, Lucy in tow, after years in Bakersfield doing God knows what to score her fix.

A sticky sheen that could be sweat or old milk or remnants of today’s lunch coats Lucy’s cheeks and forehead. Someone has taken the trouble to give the little girl’s face a cursory wipe, but the job was so poorly executed it has served only to smear an even layer of the sticky substance over Lucy’s cheeks and tiny button nose.

“Hola, Lucy,” Lola tries. She doesn’t know if Lucy prefers English or Spanish.

Lucy stares up at Lola.

“Lucy, what do you say?” Juanita prods her granddaughter, a weathered hand, bony fingered, tightening on Lucy’s shoulder.

Lola doesn’t like to see Juanita Amaro’s claw sinking into her granddaughter’s shoulder, prodding Lucy to give attention or affection, so she throws her head in the direction of the house. “Wanna help me in the kitchen?”

Lucy looks up at her grandmother, unsure of how to answer.

“Yes, she does,” Juanita says, her claw of a finger poking Lucy forward, toward Lola.

“Yes,” Lucy repeats, too loud, but the noise of the party doesn’t stop as the little girl follows Lola, picking her way through trodden grass and weeds sprouting from dry drought dirt, the yard of a family with no landscaper, even though there are plenty who live in the neighborhood.

In the kitchen, more women—older than the ones gathered outside with their vodka cranberries and bloodred press-on nails—bustle. In here, the women are thicker from ass to earring. They speak only Spanish, as if it’s some secret code Lola and the younger ones don’t understand.

“No, it was his ex-girlfriend’s mother’s cousin—” Lola catches from one of the women.

“Lottie’s girl?”

“No, Lottie was dead by then. You remember...

Revue de presse :

A debut as fast, flexible and poised as a chef s knife.  At its best it has the lithe energy of a Lee Child novel, combined with Dennis Lehane s or to step outside of the genre, Stuart Dybeck s sense of the exhausting intimacy of poor neighborhoods...an unshakably engrossing read... Love is vibrant and clear-eyed, an exciting new west coast observer.

(New York Times Book Reviews)

'A tough, enterprising and vulnerable heroine, Lola gives the reader an unvarnished insight into ghetto life.'

(Sunday Times Crime Club)

'A brilliant debut, a bleak and cynical noir set in the patriarchal gangland world of LA's South Central, with smack-dealer Lola pulling her gang's strings as she does whatever it takes to survive.'

(Irish Times)

'A gritty, tightly plotted masterpiece that doubles as a whirlwind tour of some of the many different sections and tribes of L.A.'

(Los Angeles Weekly)

'An unbelievably smart mystery.'

(Newsweek)

A fine, brutal debut thriller.

(Mail on Sunday)

'Stunning... This powerful read is at once an intelligently crafted mystery, a reflection on the cycles of violence and addiction, and a timely mediation on the double standard facing women in authority.'

(Publishers Weekly starred review)

'Intense, gritty, and breathlessly paced, Lola is a thriller that s been elevated by exquisite writing and deep character development.'

--(Booklist)

'A glorious invention, the Latina daughter of Lisbeth Salander and Walter White, on a lifelong tear of revenge after being pimped by her mother for drugs and then living with the double invisibility of her gender and her race.'

--(Kirkus)

'I fell hard for Lola in all her fierce and broken beauty, her reckless and necessary hardness, her bottomless capacity for loyalty. Don t miss this ride.'

--(Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of The Opposite of Everyone)

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9780451496102: Lola: A Novel

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ISBN 10 : 0451496108 ISBN 13 : 9780451496102
Editeur : Crown, 2017
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9780451496119: Lola: A Novel

Crown, 2018
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9786056665554: Lola

Misis ..., 2018
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Love, Melissa Scrivner
Edité par Point Blank (2017)
ISBN 10 : 1786070863 ISBN 13 : 9781786070869
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