cover image Viper’s Dream

Viper’s Dream

Jake Lamar. Crooked Lane, $18.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-63910-569-4

Lamar (Ghosts of Saint-Michel) keeps the pages turning in this taut saga of an aspiring jazz musician’s descent into Harlem’s criminal underworld. In 1961, Clyde “The Viper” Morton is distraught after killing an unnamed victim; it’s not his first murder, but it’s the first one he regrets. He calls a friend on the NYPD to report the death and is given three hours to flee the city before authorities arrive on the scene. The action then shifts back to 1936, as Morton leaves his Alabama hometown and the mother of his unborn child for New York City, with dreams of becoming a professional trumpeter. He bombs his first audition, and instead finds work shining shoes in a Harlem barbershop. Before long, he catches the attention of Abraham Orlinsky, a loan shark and drug dealer who fronts as a nightclub owner. Orlinsky hires Morton as an enforcer, dangling the promise of increased wages and luxury living, and Morton accepts the devil’s bargain. The ’30s and ’60s timelines alternate throughout, building to the revelation of who Morton killed in the present, and why. Lamar dexterously uses the ping-ponging structure to ratchet up suspense and render the climactic payoff properly shocking. This sympathetic portrait of a violent antihero is hard not to wolf down in a single sitting. Agent: Kristine Dahl, CAA. (Sept.)