Web of the City by Harlan Ellison

Hard Case Crime
Pub date: April 2nd, 2013

Harlan Ellison is best known for his science fiction and fantasy stories. But way back in 1957 before he was a blip on anyone’s radar, he wrote Web of the City. He wrote it under some interesting circumstances as well. He was on Fort Benning Georgia undergoing Army Ranger training. At the end of the day, he would take his typewriter and endure the abuse of Drill Instructors and fellow soldiers while sitting on a toilet with a board across his lap. To me that is impressive. Drill Instructors are not known for their intellectual nature. Ellison knew the subject matter well. He previously spent 10 weeks undercover with an actual Brooklyn street gang. Later while still in the army, Ellison was writing for the Fort Knox newspaper and reviewing books for a column. The book had been already sold but the company that purchased it went out of business. It’s backlog of titles were sold all over the place. One day while going through a box of books for his column, he came across his book with a new title. It now called Rumble and for a short time, Ellison was the proudest private in the army. For over 30 years, the book was gone. Well not gone but unavailable to all but serious collectors. Now it has been brought back by the folks at Hard Case Crime.

Rusty Santoro is in a gang but wants out. He knows it’s just a matter of time before he winds up in jail or dead. Rusty wants a legitimate life. He regrets having helped his little sister get involved with a gang as well. A teacher at his high school bailed him out of some trouble because he saw the potential in Rusty. Rusty knows his time free is short so he begins to take steps to ensure his freedom. He begins with fighting the new leader of his old gang. But it’s not that simple. Getting out of a gang is way harder than getting in. Remember that clichéd line, “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.”????? That applies here.

I really liked this story. Reading it was like stepping into a time warp that sends you back to the late 50s. The dialogue of the characters is almost a foreign language with its use of slang from that era. The descriptions of the city are very atmospheric. You can feel the heat and grime on your skin as well as the claustrophobia. The gang life depicted is closer to the Crips and Bloods of today than of the gangs from that bullshit musical Westside Story. Don’t let the time setting of the story fool you, it pacts a punch. Those are all the reasons I really liked the story. Those are some of the reasons readers may not like the story. Some might have issue with the dialogue or time setting. Yes both could be considered dated. If you let that stop you, you are missing out on an entertaining read.

Dave