cover image Third and Indiana

Third and Indiana

Steve Lopez. Viking Books, $21.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-670-85676-3

This hard-edged, stunning first novel is set on and around the corner of Third and Indiana in the ``Badlands'' of Philadelphia. Fourteen-year-old Gabriel Santoro has been assigned to this spot by a local drug king, Diablo, and it is here that the boy makes a small fortune by handing out crack to people in passing cars. Gabriel has run away from home, and his mother, Ofelia, aided by a sympathetic priest, is looking for him. What she doesn't know is that her son is staying with Eddie Passarelli, who needs 10 grand to pay back a mobster for the loss of a loaned truck; meanwhile, Diablo is demanding two grand from Gabriel to make up for an alleged shortage in his cash count. Money, with its awful power, is almost a separate character in this novel. Some, like Gabriel, become drug dealers to get more of it; others, like Eddie, are endangered because they don't have enough of it. Lopez (a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer ) doesn't preach, however; with brutal honesty, he alternates scenes of despair with glimmerings of hope and, even when detailing matter-of-fact violence, he writes with compassion about those trapped in a world where men like Diablo make the rules and are the arbiters of life and death. He also employs a brilliant visual image: spray-painted silhouettes that appear on North Broad Street whenever a teenager dies in a gun-related incident. It's an image that is as haunting as this tough, compelling novel. 50,000 first printing; $50,000 ad/promo; author tour. (Sept.)