THE DRIFT

John Ridley, Author . Knopf $24 (288p) ISBN 978-0-375-41182-3

Ridley (Stray Dogs) leads readers into the lurid, violent world of modern-day hobos and rail riders in this taut, riveting murder mystery. Charles Hanson left his middle-class L.A. life to become Brain Nigger Charlie, a free-spirited hobo who knows every trick in the book when it comes to surviving in the brutal world of rail riding. But even Charlie is challenged when his friend's niece Corina drops out of high school to ride the rails, only to find herself caught in a world of drug smuggling, gangs and violent thugs. Charlie's quest to find her starts with an encounter with Kessler, a neo-Nazi gang lord who has enslaved Corina as a drug mule. She manages to escape, and as Charlie races Kessler to find her, he picks up more information on her whereabouts from a sympathetic cop named Haxton Boole, who intervenes on Charlie's behalf when he is picked up and tortured by an FBI agent after a battle with Kessler's men. Charlie soon learns that the girl has hooked up with a Hispanic serial killer. After a brief trip to L.A. to revisit his old life (in the course of which he discovers that his wife has taken off), he heads to the Pacific Northwest for a deadly showdown. Ridley's terse, electric prose captures the subculture of modern-day rail riders, and the suspense level remains high throughout. (Sept.)

Forecast:This could be a breakout book—supported by national advertising and a five-city author tour—for Ridley, a regular commentator on NPR, who has also written and/or produced such successful films as Undercover Brother and Three Kings.

Reviewed on: 08/26/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
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