cover image DATING GAMES


R. M. Johnson, . . Simon & Schuster, $23 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-4455-8

Johnson's latest (after Love Frustration) is an urban soap opera of sex, drugs, crime and deceit—and even true love—weaving together the dramatic, if predictable, story lines of various Chicago denizens. Livvy Rodgers, a nurse's assistant and single mother of twin 17-year-olds, is struggling to make ends meet as well as to get over her elusive and bad-hearted lover, Carlos. Daughter Hennesey is a sweet honor student headed for college with a full scholarship; smart-mouthed twin Alizé cares for little but money and sex. Manly, kind Rafe Collins is fresh out of prison for a crime he didn't commit and stuck in a job as an auto mechanic for his old criminal pal, Smoke, who's using the fancy car dealership as a front for drug dealing. Cutting between different points of view—but always keeping a cool, almost journalistic distance from his characters—Johnson charts the heartbreaks and hopes of each of them. Livvy may have finally found a good man in Wade Williams; Rafe takes a shine to Henny but not before Alizé tries to rope him in; Wade befriends Rafe; and Henny and Rafe get their chance but it's a bumpy road, as everyone's lives cross and recross, binding them all together. Livvy's quest to find love and security, Rafe's struggle to escape the clutches of Smoke and make a decent life and Alizé's misguided attempt to steal her way to luxury all come down to a violent denouement. The final chapters strain credibility, but this is a solid drama from well-known author and Essence bestseller Johnson. Agent, Elaine Koster.(Sept.)