Dec. 16, 2020
reviewed by Eric Ellis
The toughest part about reviewing novels like The System by Ryan Gattis, is doing justice to the writing and story. This novel really is more than just a “crime” or “thriller” novel. It’s a novel of destruction, growth, and redemption.
The System is a gritty, urban crime novel focusing on those encountering “the system,” and of those practicing within “the system.” As Gattis describes, the machination of “the system” consists of the three prongs of government when it comes to law and law breaking: law enforcement, the courts, and corrections. The main focus of the novel is on Jacob “Dreamer” Safula and Omar “Wizard” Tavira. Wizard is a hardcore mover and shaker in the gang world, while Dreamer is more or less tied to the gang subculture because of his friendship with Wizard and geographic upbringing.
The novel opens with Angela Alvarez, the girlfriend of Dreamer, telling him their relationship has reached the end of the road and it’s time for him to move out of her home. Wizard, the cousin to Angela Alvarez, and best friend of Dreamer, also lives with Alvarez and while the couple is ending their relationship, some distance away, Wizard happens to be shooting a female drug dealer nicknamed Scrappy.
Soon, because of malevolent forces beyond the control of Dreamer and regardless of being innocent of the shooting, both he and Wizard are arrested and charged with the crime and find themselves facing possible life prison terms.
In alternating chronological chapters told from the perspective of different characters within the novel, the story continues to unfold as Dreamer and Wizard move through the bowels of the “the system.” The novel further details the toll this process exacts from all those involved when pulled into its crushing vortex, where procedure is more important than truth and where results often end with negative, unrelenting repercussions, often contrary to guilt or innocence.
Those fond of writers like George Pelecanos, Richard Price and Dennis Lehane should enjoy the writing of Ryan Gattis and it will be quite a surprise if The System does not start appearing on “best of” end of the year lists in crime fiction. Readers are also encouraged to read Gattis’ prior novel All Involved.
NetGalley provided an advanced reader copy of this novel with the promise of an unbiased and fair review.