A fluid police thriller with a post-human feeling: the story knows it can’t win. Set both in a good deal of frost (wintry Minnesota) and within the vastness and unforgiving harshness of a desert environment (Somalia), ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS is about revenge – not just to atone for a crime, but to prove an eerie point. The story appears to be remarkably firm embedded in its locations of choice, and sidesteps any kind of ideology. In doing so it throws our own unease right back into our faces. Its author looks more deeply than we might be willing to bear into cross-cultural tensions, different ways of life in the western and non-western world, and terrorism triggered by religious belief. Close your eyes, count to a hundred, whisper to yourself all you ever knew about heritage, hip-hop fans in baggy trousers hooded 24/7, about cultural awareness and tolerance, about empathy and respect – and still there will be misunderstanding, batshit craziness and plenty of blood to throw you off balance.
Smith writes sober and with so sure a touch that he seems to take us back to a time when cop work wasn’t embalmed in layers of cliched, TV-style killing. ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS does not work like one of those comatose, forcibly cynical stories. Instead, this splintering, cross-cultural nightmare about American-Somali youths recruited for terrorism back in their homeland dares to give us the surprise of metallic sadness, and has our mind going round in a bleak space of perplexity.
Smith’s confident style comes across as a form of eloquent mildew. It is this rotting kind of grace that serves as stark contrast to horrific plot twists, and keeps us in a constant state of imbalance. Evoked pictures stand out clear, almost tangible, and the novelist makes us see through the eyes of very different characters: religion or nihilism, both taken too far have a bad effect on the nerves.
ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS contains some unforgettable, cruel dialog. Lines are clean and uncluttered, stripped bare and sometimes so spare they almost sound like a cold-blooded type of poetry. The story moves boldly beyond wisecracking cops and formalized thriller routine, on to something more true, tired and final.
Early on, the plot accumulates corpses. The fuels that drive main character detective Ray Bleeker are pain and vengeance, although the First Gulf War veteran appears twisted, numb and partly incapable of suffering. When his co-worker girlfriend Cindy, their unborn baby and a friend get shot and killed during what appeared to be a routine twin cities traffic stop, Bleeker’s world crumbles, and he is ready to do whatever it takes in the name of revenge.
His most unlikely ally in this is Mustafa, ex-gangsta and father of one of the Somali suspects. Smith pairs them off by the wicked use of a plot gimmick: they ought to detest each other, but seem to be handcuffed together by working towards a shared goal. Fate joins their plans as they try to track down Mustafa’s son Adem and his friend Jibriil, a quest that leads the two Minnesotan men all the way to Mogadishu. We sense that their connection accomodates enormous tension, even though a dry, timid way of understanding each other’s position is involved.
But this is not a buddy story, nor a chunk of exciting, dusty adventures Lawrence of Arabia-style. It’s a straightforward told, cold story about uncontrolled mobs and violence in one of the poorest states in the world, about an American cop who lost all hope, about two men so trapped in their heritage that one of them must break to find salvation.
Some thrillers keep you entertained. Some shake you up and keep you involved and committed. Once in a while a story comes along that does both things at the same time, and continues to live in your memory.
Published by Blasted Heath, available now http://www.blastedheath.com
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