SECOND OPINION: Safe by Ryan Gattis

Review published on September 6, 2017.

Safe is the latest book from Ryan Gattis, set over 48 hours with a backdrop of the dark underbelly of Los Angeles and its drugs gangs. Gattis uses two voices to narrate the story, in the form of Ricky “Ghost” Mendoza and Rudy “Glasses” Reyes with a punk rock mixed tape giving the story an old school vibe. This old school vibe can be seen as an American version of Robin Hood, with guns, drugs, money and cancer running central to the story.

Ghost is a reformed drug addict, who is now a locksmith and safe cracker for the DEA who, when the story opens, is cracking the safe of a major drug dealer for the agency. He has been left alone by the DEA agents as he cracks the safe… while they are gone he also removes a large amount of money, $887,000. Unfortunately, his car has been seen and the gang will be searching for him within a few hours. Glasses is sent by his boss to find the missing money and get it back, as he cannot be seen to be going weak with a sneak thief.

What we then get is the back story to why Ghost has taken this money and why he is not planning on keeping a penny for himself. He drives to meet his friend who will pay off people’s mortgages for them – people who are heading for trouble as the financial system is crashing. Ghost has become Robin Hood in his desire to help unfortunate people who will never know him, as he knows he is going to die; if the cancer does not get him then a bullet will.

Glasses has his own private reasons for looking in to getting out of the drug trade, and he is not afraid to act covertly to further his interests. He is a husband and a father and he is getting desperate to escape the clutches of his boss and the violence of the drugs trade. He knows that leaving the gang culture and life is not easy and like a cancer will slowly kill you.

Gattis’ uses vernacular language to voice the characters which gives it authenticity, and the narrative is better for it as this is a fast-moving thriller. Amidst the violence, there are touching moments of tenderness from Ghost when he thinks back to Rose, and from Glasses when he thinks to his own family.

This is a wonderful story, full of hope and tenderness – things not normally associated with a thriller, but this book is better for it. There are other definitions that could be used for the word safe, from where we see money and drugs to something far deeper.

Safe is a book that will live long in the memory.

Paul Diggett 5/5

Safe by Ryan Gattis
Picador 9781509843756 hbk Jul 2017

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