Someone is painting bodies on Philadelphia's Broad Streetone more boldly drawn chalk outline every time another life is lost to the violence of the drug wars. A sixteen-year-old dealer; a priest; a nine-year-old girl. The images pile through the summer and fall, moving closer each day to the doorstep of City Hall. Ofelia Santoro rides her bicycle over the bodies and through the dark, decaying streets of the neighborhood known to police as the Badlands. She is looking for her fourteen-year-old son, Gabriel, who disappeared a month earlier. His father skipped two years ago, and she's been losing her boy ever since. Gabriel got his first job when he was twelve, as a lookout, spotting cops for the coke sellers working the car trade. Now he's a dealer himself, the youngest guy in the Black Cap gang, holding down the most dangerous corner and hiring his own lookouts. He feels guilty getting kids involved the same way he got involved, but he needs them, or he'll be caught. Gabriel tries to outrun the neighborhood, taking cover with a drifter who is the father he might have had. But Gabriel is already trapped, at the mercy of Diablo, the ugliest of the dealers, a man who kills for fun. Steve Lopez's plot, dialogue, and pacing are masterful. With searing precision, he portrays a world of evil so routine that its seems inevitable. Yet Lopez endows his characters with such humanity that redemption and radiance lighten this darkness. Third and Indiana is an extraordinarily compelling and powerful debut.
Steve Lopez is the author of several books, including The Sunday Macaroni Club and The Soloist. In 2009, The Soloist was made into a movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. Lopez is a columnist with the Los Angeles Times and lives in California.