Monday, November 4, 2013

"H.N.I.C." by Albert "Prodigy" Johnson with Steven Savile

Albert "Prodigy" Johnson, of the rap duo Mobb Deep, creates a short readable piece of crime fiction with Steven Savile.

The novella is brisk, and introduces the reader to Pappy, a computer whiz looking to get out of his bleak inner-city existence for a better life in...Detroit? He is friends with the seemingly unbalanced Black, and they commit petty crimes trying to fund their drugs-and-women lifestyles. A bank job goes wrong, and Black kills a man, forcing Pappy to hang around longer to make some money to start a new life. Pappy is also concerned for Tonya, the beaten addict Black claims as his own. Following the tried-and-true formula, Black talks Pappy into committing "one last job," which is rife with double-crosses and senseless murder.

What Johnson has written here certainly feels modern (there is an Obamacare reference), but the plot has been around since the days of the Old West. I don't think you are supposed to root for the criminals, but I did sympathize with Pappy's plight. The writing style spends no time on physical appearances or setting, and instead quickly throws the reader into the action. There is no "Ocean's Eleven"-type minutiae about the two robberies in the novella because the planning that goes into them are haphazard.

Full of profanity and bloody violence, Johnson tells his story efficiently. Like I said, the plot has been done before, and that is the book's main drawback. I wanted something unexpected to happen, but familiarity was outweighed by the suspense of what would happen to Pappy. Maybe because of who Johnson is, the story felt very realistic, and you know this has happened before in real life.

I don't know gangster rap from plastic wrap, every time I try to type Mobb Deep, my fingers want to spell out "Mos Def," but Johnson's story is a brutal and quick read. "H.N.I.C." is also a cautionary tale, custom-made for the big screen. (* * * *) out of five stars.