Tag Archives: Richard Stark

Pop Culture Vulture reviews Young Americans

Dave RichardsPop Culture Vulture

I was born in 1976. So for me the ’70s is a decade I can only experience by looking back at history or some of the film, television, books, comics, and music that was produced in that era. It seems pretty clear though that decade was a great time for crime fiction and it’s also a great era to set a pulp crime tale; the mob was this organization of almost mythic power and corruption was everywhere. In his new novel “Young Americans” writer Josh Stallings takes readers back to that time period, by melding a heist story worthy of the great Richard Stark with a subculture he was part of and loved, the Glam Rock era. The result is a powerful, fun, and exciting crime tale.

“Young Americans,” (named after the David Bowie album) kicks off in mid December of 1976 in Northern California. In the opening chapters we meet Sam, a stripper who has run afoul of a powerful rural crime boss and the only way to save herself is by returning to the family business, thievery. So Sam returns home to San Francisco and assembles a heist crew to help her get out from under the crime lord’s thumb and perhaps start a better life. We follow her and her friends and family as they form a plan, gather the materials they need, and case their target. We then go along on the daring New Year’s Eve heist of a packed disco and then the story picks up even more power and momentum as the aftermath of the heist puts Sam and company in the crosshairs of a number of powerful and dangerous enemies.

So “Young Americans” is a fun and exciting tale full of twists, turns, and great action, but it’s real strength is it’s great cast of complex, fun, and well developed characters. Our chief protagonists are Sam, a tough and cunning thief with a devotion to both her biological and chosen families; and her brother Jacob whose smarts got him shut out of the family business. So when we meet him Jake is a bright kid obsessed with the great films of his era and the great rock ‘n roll, and when his sister comes home he insists on being part of her plans to get out of trouble.

Jake’s friend Terry, a smart jock turned glitter rock kid also becomes part of the crew. Rounding out the team are Sam’s old partners in crime Candy and my favorite character in the book Valentina, an African American transgender woman. I don’t want to spoil anything by talking too much about why I like Val, but let’s just say she’s incredibly charismatic and a bad-ass.

We also meet a number of colorful, eclectic, and cool characters over the course of “Young Americans.” One of my favorites ended up being Jo jo a gay, kindly, mob enforcer with a love for ’70s TV.

“Young Americans” shines a light on how cool, capable, and tough Stallings core cast is, but the author also really shows off their humanity as well. We get to see them in their element and we get to see them dealing with the physically and emotionally taxing consequences of their actions. Those are my favorite types of crime novels; the ones where you get both thrills and excitement and the brutal and painful costs of violence. It’s a type of novel that Stallings is a master at telling too. He proved it with his Moses McGuire trilogy of novels and proves it once again here.

So “Young Americans” has a different kind of feel than Stallings previous work, but it contains all of the elements I’ve come to love about his writing: fun action, gritty street level crime, fascinating characters, and powerful and poignant drama. For me it reads like a mash up of the lurid, lightning charged rock of the post-glam punk band the Cramps and Richard Stark’s awesome Parker novels.

MysteryPeople Review: YOUNG AMERICANS

  • Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

I am a sucker for a heist novel. Whether it’s amateurs pushed to economic extremes, “Born To Lose” punks with thirty-eights, or precise pros, the story of someone taking something from someone else always draws me in, no matter how well I’ve gotten to know the scores. I was excited to find out that one of my favorite hard boiled authors, Josh Stallings, was comitting his own style of literary larceny with Young Americans.

Set in the mid-seventies, Young Americans stars ringleader Sam, a former small time thief, scraping by as a stripper in Northern California. When her questionable boyfriend disappears with forty grand of her boss’ money, she must pay him back with either her money or her life. To get the money, she returns to her Bay Area home and enlists her old crew, enthusiastic participants in the glitter rock scene of the time. The crew includes her kid brother, Jacob; Candy, a glam rock princess and Jacob’s love interest, and Valentina, an African American Vietnam vet and transexual. The mark is a disco on New Year’s Eve. As you can guess, things don’t go as planned.

It is how Stallings spins these tropes that makes them work. His glam rock San Fransico gives the story a unique back drop, showing a group of young people pushing the views of culture and sexuality in a time of transition. Stallings explores how the heist plays with and against his characters’ emotions. Sam struggles to keep Jacob as safe as possible, but needs him around for the score to work. As part of their plan, Candy sleeps with the frontman of the disco’s opening act, wreaking havoc with Jacob’s emotions.

The author’s ability to play out the comaraderie aspect of the heist novel is what truly makes the story involving. Stallings’ seventies setting allows us to think back to the tribes we belonged to in our past, no matter what era, before marriage, family, and obligations made friendship a less concentrated form. He captures those connections of young people who would do whatever they could to back the other, no matter how stupid. When Sam and her crew learn how deep they are in, the implications of these connections become much more harrowing and serious.

Young Americans is a oddly sucessful hybrid of Richard Stark and Cameron Crowe. You root for these crazy kids to get the money, avoid murder by the mob, escape the law, and keep the bond they share together for as long as they can. You may end the novel yearning to listen to something on 8-track.

You can find Young Americans on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.