cover image Only the Strong

Only the Strong

Jabari Asim. Agate/Bolden Books, $15 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-932841-94-7

This thoroughly entertaining and stylish crime novel from Asim (A Taste of Honey) is set in Gateway City, a fictionalized version of Asim's native St. Louis, during the 1970s. Thirty-five-year-old Lorenzo "Guts" Tolliver is the semi-retired "enforcer" for the gangster chieftain Ananias Goode. Guts, who now operates a fleet of taxicabs, has been in a three-year romance with Pearl Jordan, a gorgeous woman with ambitious dreams of owning her own dance studio. Though Pearl wants to get married, Guts is reluctant to tie the knot due to his violent and dangerous lifestyle. As a special favor, Goode assigns Guts to watch over the flashy baseball player Rip Crenshaw since Goode doesn't trust his replacement enforcer, Sharps, to take care of it. The author creates a flawed, complex, and likeable protagonist in Guts. A supernatural element adds another dramatic layer to this fast-paced narrative. As Goode and Guts take their final steps to go straight, the inevitable showdown with their past troubles and enemies plays out. Asim's impressive novel deserves favorable comparison to the works of Chester Himes and Walter Mosley. (May)