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Book Review- “Young Junius”

It’s always exciting to discover a great new author. Last spring I came across a mention of a book called “Jack Wakes Up” by Seth Harwood. The book’s cover featured glowing blurbs by three of my favorite authors: Michael Connelly, Duane Swierczynski, and Megan Abbott, so I gave it a try and I was glad I did. “Jack Wakes Up” is an action packed, enormously fun, pulpy crime novel. After finishing the book I discovered that Harwood had published two sequels and another novel as free audio books on his website. Free is the best kind of price, but audiobooks aren’t exactly my thing. So I anxiously awaited the release of Harwood’s next print novel.

That wait came to an end this Christmas for me when I received a copy of Harwood’s new print novel “Young Junius” as a gift, and it was definitely worth the wait. Like “Jack Wakes Up” , “Young Junius” is an immensely enjoyable crime novel, but it features a grittier, more realistic tone. Where “Jack” was fun and exciting, “Junius” was powerful and poignant. That darkness and realism makes it a better book

“Young Junius” takes place on the mean streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts circa 1987. The titular character, Junius Posey, is 14 years old, but thanks to a growth spurt he’s already 6’3. Junius and his older brother, Temple are low level figures in the area drug trade which has exploded with the introduction of Crack cocaine. When the book opens, Temple is dead and Junius is out to find his brother’s killer. Junius’s quest becomes complicated early on when he kills a local drug dealer to protect his best friend, Elf. This leads to Junius being marked for death by the dealer’s associates, but instead of running like his mother suggests he follows his best lead in his brother’s death to the heart of the city’s drug trade, three massive public housing towers controlled by two rival drug gangs.

When Junius reaches the towers he seeks out one of the drug lords in the hope that she’ll be able to provide him with the identity of his brother’s killer. The drug lord instead exploits the teenager’s quest for revenge and uses him as a pawn in her war against her rival. What follows is a haunting and compelling explosion of violence that reads like a mash-up of the 1991 movie “New Jack City” and the fourth season of “The Wire”, which was the phenomenal television program’s best season.

Another reason “Young Junius” is so fascinating is because Harwood populates the book with a rich cast of eclectic characters like Roughneck, a mid level drug dealer with an interest in martial arts who is slowly becoming disgusted with the violence and misery of the drug trade. Or officer Gary Johnson, an African American uniformed police officer who endures an enormous amount of physical punishment when he stumbles onto the violent happenings in the towers.

Harwood also uses pacing and tone incredibly well in “Young Junius”. The bulk of the book takes place over one day and as that day progresses events in the towers spiral out of control and more and more people are drawn into the violence. The day ends with an intense violent gun battle on the top floors of one of the Towers. Things are often grim and tense, but Harwood doesn’t want his story to be oppressively bleak so he inserts moments of humor when appropriate.

“Young Junius” is a sort of prequel to “Jack Wakes Up” and it works in that capacity too. Because I like to keep my reviews as spoiler free as possible I won’t say how, but it will be immediately obvious to those who have read “Jack Wakes Up”. Readers who haven’t read that novel won’t be lost though

So I highly recommend “Young Junius”. If you’re looking for a powerful and compelling crime novel that explores the physical and emotional dangers of violence and vengeance look no further.

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