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Snitch by Booker T Mattison

To help readers assess the extent to which this review may be biased, I remind everyone that I am an atheist. Snitch by Booker T Mattison (Revell, 2011 and now distributed by INscribe Digital as an e-book) is a study in melancholy with a Christian message intertwined. Imagine Andre, a man who loves the power and emotion of poetry and, through that, finds what should be the perfect relationship with a beautiful woman called Sandra Horton. They have a child together but he increasingly feels as if, somehow, he doesn’t fit comfortably into the relationship. So he leaves her. He still writes. That’s inevitable. Words are so inextricably bound up in him, he will never be able to stop. But the best he can do for employment is drive a bus through the night. Perhaps, life could have been different. But you never get nowhere on a perhaps. What actually happened was that, at college, he was picked up by the police the first time he carried drugs. The results were a conviction, ten years probation and him busted from college. He lost big time. As a very good, if selfish, footfall player, he was lined up for a scholarship or the possibility of joining a pro team. What makes his present job as a driver all the more difficult is that the defensive player who took him out of the key game when NFL scouts were present now works alongside him. His rival did play professionally for a year and then gave it up. To Andre, they’re two ageing lions wondering which one of them should be dominant in the current pride.

The mother of his child is still beautiful but also struggling. With a young boy to look after, she’s not got the best of lives ahead of her as a single mother when all she can do is work as a waitress, albeit in a fairly classy restaurant in downtown Jersey City. Her father disowned her when she not only began living in sin, but also had a child. It’s a shame really. In different times, she and Andre might still be together. In their own ways, they still love each other. Then there’s Hakeem Shabazz. He knows Andre from way back and is now trying to make it as a professional councillor on Communipaw Avenue. This is a dangerous neighbourhood and he’s chosen to buy on the OGC’s turf. OGC? The Original Gun Clappers, a gang now run by Cyclops (better known as Claymont to his Grammy Lee), that deals drugs to the ‘hood. To complete the circle, Sandra and Grammy Lee are members of the New Jersey Truth led by Rocky Jenkins — he’s Claymont’s uncle and the man who originally founded OGC. None of this should matter except that driving down Bergen Avenue on his midnight shift, Andre sees Cyclops shoot a known snitch dead. At first Andre denies all knowledge. It’s dangerous to talk out of turn in this part of town. When he finally admits being involved, he’s put on two-weeks suspension without pay for failing to report one aspect of the incident. When the police tell the bus company Andre failed to disclose his conviction, he’s also out of a job.

Booker T Mattison using his hands to get the message across

The thing you have to remember about these neighborhoods is that although thousands live in the area, they know each other. Many are related by blood or the experiences they’ve shared. For that reason, we have to expect an author will draw everyone into a tight circle of relationship to power the story. In this case, sadness and despair can always turn darker when it comes to more basic questions of self-defence or revenge. At times like this, there’s always an ambivalence about the role of God. For the self-righteous, it’s the cornerstone of life. For others, the extent they admit God has a part to play in their lives is a matter of convenience. Take a father who thinks his daughter should be respectable and marry before having sex. When invited to dandle his illegitimate grandson on his lap, should his strict Christian principles bend? Or what about an ex-con who works as bouncer in an up-market club. When at work, should the question of God come up when he has to invite a troublesome soul to leave?

Religion is always a difficult issue to deal with in fiction. If it arises naturally and is no more than a subtext, it can be accepted in the same way we all rub along with each other in the community. But it becomes more problematic if the message is too dominant and influences the direction of the plot. To be judged a success as a narrative, cause and effect should always be credible. In one sense, I’m happy to see people within any community coming together to resist the influence of criminals who blight their lives. Within reasonable limits, both individuals and the communities they form should be able to defend themselves. As an analogy, think of the white blood cells generated by the human body’s autoimmune system. The leucocyte identifies bacteria, viruses and other invading “foreign” materials, and fights against them. So, in principle, Andre and anyone else who might join him are this neighbourhood’s white blood cells. They are organising themselves to defend the social body from criminal infection. We then get into motives. Why should they put themselves at risk for the benefit of the majority who choose not to get involved?

For Christians, the central metaphor is that, by sacrificing Himself on the cross, Jesus accepted the evil in the world and, through that acceptance, defeated evil. In modern times, a comparable example would be the role of the innocent witness. An individual who silently stands up for what he or she believes, who has the courage to confront evil, say by peacefully picketing an abortion clinic, is following the example of Jesus and so defeating evil. Finally, we have the idea that those who put their trust in the Lord, who come with humility in their hearts and care nothing for their own safety, will be saved. In this way, God’s love is unconditional even though, to some in the religious community, one or more of those saved are undeserving. All of which brings us back to the title. Although Christians believe God is omniscient, an innocent witness is actually acting as a snitch, representing the conscience that does not speak to the wrongdoer, but is prepared to speak out against wrongdoing to the world.

From this, you will understand that Snitch is not a realistic crime novel. Rather it’s an extended parable that ends with a miracle. If this fits your interests, Snitch is well written and consistent in its message.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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