3 out of 4 stars
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The year is 1945, a dark time in Newark, New Jersey. Jobs are scarce, and it seems to the poverty-stricken white residents that immigrants and black people are taking over their city. There is no shortage of crime either, as a gang war is about to begin any time now. Meanwhile, the city's biggest newspapers, the Clarion and the Beacon, are having a circulation war of their own. And right in the middle of it are a pair of teenage boys, secretly working for the numbers racket while they deliver newspapers.
Although the premise of Father Divine's Bikes seems a bit complicated, author Steve Bassett never overwhelms us with too much information. He takes his time, letting every character get a few chapters dedicated to their backstory, showing us their motivations and the hardships they have encountered. As a person who enjoys character development, I have felt the crime genre can often be a bit lacking in this department. But that is certainly not the case here.
One can tell the author has a close connection to Newark, judging by how real the setting feels. Indeed, Steve Bassett was born in Newark. Themes of racial and religious tension, poverty, and prejudice are beautifully written in a way that only someone who has experienced them can. The dialogue also feels very real, with slang commonly used at the time, but never overdone.
You may expect this to be a crime thriller, with all the gangs and the rising tension. But for the most part, it's a slow-paced character-focused portrait of an impoverished city during one of its most turbulent times. I greatly prefer this to traditional crime thrillers, but those looking for something full of action won't find much of that here.
I did encounter some typos while reading this, but only one was particularly confusing. I would consider the others all minor, as they can be easily fixed and did not hinder my enjoyment in any way.
All in all, this is a realistic, gritty portrayal of people and the things they had to do to survive during this low point in Newark's history. I can easily give it 3 out of 4 stars for the character development, poignant themes, and the well-written setting. If the typos were fixed, I would definitely give it 4 out of 4 stars. I would recommend this to all those that enjoy historical settings with a focus on the characters living in them. I wouldn't recommend it to those looking for an action-filled crime thriller.
The book is aimed towards an adult audience, as it features violence and sexual content, including prostitution. Aside from your everyday profanity, readers should also note that characters often use racial slurs in dialogue. Those sensitive to racial topics should perhaps steer clear of this one.
Father Divine's Bikes
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