Melissa Scrivner Love
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Buy *Lola* by Melissa Scrivner Loveonline

Melissa Scrivner Love
336 pages
March 2017
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Melissa Scrivner Love’s Lola has plenty of emotional baggage, street contacts, and fighting capabilities that make her a worthy rival to El Coleccionista--The Collector--who unexpectedly turns up at Lola’s home in Huntington Park. He offers a preemptive warning to Lola and her gang, the Crenshaw Six: Lola had better let him in on the profits from a drop--two million in heroin and two million in cash--that is about to take place in Venice. Lola is also to make sure that Westside drug lord Darrel King never gets his product, and that his new supplier never gets his money. In turn, Lola will receive ten percent of the product and the cash recovered, as well as control of Darrel King’s territory. Familiar with the process of torture and killing, Lola must use whatever means necessary to get information on King’s couriers while battling the ever-present net of the LAPD.

So begins the deep, twisted psychology of Lola, a pathological killer whose life unfolds in an almost comedic way. Together with her gang of militia--Garcia, baby brother Hector, Marcos and Jorge--the Crenshaw Six rule their district in a fashion that always seems to make their lives disposable. Lola is the self-professed boss of the gang who hangs around “on the periphery” of the group where she can move without notice. She’s haunted and damaged by Maria Vasquez, her junkie mother who has spent much of her life strung out, queasy, and pregnant from one of the nameless men who rotated out of their house every couple of weeks.

Love’s literary conceit, a real-time spoken narrative, gives the book its strength and power. We are caught up in Lola’s psychotic adrenaline rush as she recounts everything that is happening, especially her revenge on Hector when he screws up the operation by going after a meth-head girl when she drops her gym bag, carrying the two million, in the middle of Venice’s Electric Avenue. Reeling from the loss of both the cartel cash and the heroin, Lola is given forty-six hours to retrieve the stash. In desperation, she decides to form a to-do list: shoot Darrel King’s girl, retrieve the cash and heroin, and learn to withstand torture at the hands of “the fat man” --a shadow leader like herself, a smooth operator whose name the authorities don’t know and most likely never will. As the story accelerates, Lola is in danger of losing control of all the webs she’s been spinning. She also entangles her beloved Hector in a way that she doesn’t see coming.

Deep inside the industrial warehouses of Huntington Park to the innocent sounds of an inner-city barrio as its inhabitants wake up “to some sort of sick hope for a new day,” Lola races to trace the money and the drugs. Regardless of death or exposure, Lola knows that her days as “a shadow leader” are finished. Never has her fate seemed more certain. The trail takes Lola deep into the heart of a Malibu rehab facility, the only place she can think of that connects all the pieces: Andréa, the fierce prosecutor; Sadie, Eldredge Watson’s withering addict courier, who seems to be flourishing in the facility; and LAPD’s Sergeant Bubba, a possibly dirty cop who released Sadie at the scene of the drop before he disappeared, possibly with the money and the drugs.

Given the story’s very minimal time frame, the plot has a farcical quality, which with Lola’s acerbic, snappy dialogue carries much of the novel. The tone is crisp and energetic, balanced against Lola’s wry, sardonic observations of the world around her. This novel is special. Yes, it has glaring weaknesses--its prose is sometimes stilted and its sustained rage is a form of insanity. Still, for all its over-the-top bloodshed and violence, the story is also scathingly funny. Dark, crazed and drug-fueled, the novel is full of adversity, but it also has heartache and a tenderness, most exemplified in Lola’s attempts to shelter a little girl from her mother’s new boyfriend’s pedophile father.

As the story’s tension dissolves into a “stale ghetto air” saturated with fried grease and engine exhaust, Lola becomes one of the most convincing character depictions in urban fiction: a modern woman struggling to survive in a male-dominated world: (“do my bidding or you're dead!”) There’s no empowerment in victimhood; Love, to her credit, refuses to make Lola the prey. Instead, she turns her heroine into a fierce, thoughtful, take-charge character who knows the virtue of self-reliance--as well as the benefits of owning her own gun.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2017

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