Kevin M. Weeks recently won a prestigious 2007 New York Book Festival award. This is a great start for a young first time author. I must admit that this is a book that I am not sure how I feel about after I had read it. I found it very disturbing, I didn’t care for the style of writing which is almost entirely ‘street speak dialog’, nor the gang related theme. I was surprised at my own reaction to Is It Suicide Or Murder, I read spy novels, I read thrillers, I read all sorts of wild stuff, and generally I put it down when it is done and just walk away unaffected. I do not bother trying to question the morality, or lack thereof. It is just a story.

Kevin for some reason managed to catch a nerve, and it is still paining me days later. His subject matter is life in a gang that is based in Philly. Maybe it was my sense of morality that was offended, maybe it was the stark reality that bothered me, or maybe it was what seemed to me to be a glorification of the Gang scene that depressed me. But bother me, this book certainly did.

The main character is Teco, AKA Homicide, or just Cide to his friends. We meet Teco as a street kid with no place to live and a passion to boost cars. With no family (at least in his mind) that cares, he finds succor and solace in becoming a member of a street gang. In Teco’s mind this is his family, and this family can not only provide a roof over his head, and food on the table, but also great riches.

Of course the good life comes at a price, and that price can be considerable. We watch Teco as gradually the luster of the gang family fades until he is forced to make some big decisions. Is his allegiance to the gang, or to his dead friend?

Books are not like movies, and I never rate a book out of five stars. But I will say this, I found this book profoundly disturbing. The themes are very dark and haunting, and the characters stark, revengeful, and with little regard for the value of human life. Kevin Weeks writes with an authority that leads me to believe that he himself has had some exposure to this lifestyle. Interestingly enough the back cover points out that he is currently ‘cooling his heels’ at the expense of the taxpayer, but it does not elaborate on what the crime was.

Although there is no ‘age warning’ on the book I do not think I would be buying a copy for my 15 or 16 year old kid.

You can obtain Is It Suicide Or Murder from Amazon, there is also a web site.

Simon Barrett

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