“The ledger gets all of us eventually, just depends on how strong you are…the ledger has a life of its own; you should know that by now…”
There is something evil afoot in The Black Ledger, D.G. Allen’s masterful look at life in Chicago in the 1980s. By the time readers finish with this book, they will realize that the significance of The Black Ledger isn’t that it speaks to a bygone era more than thirty years ago or focuses on societal ills that are far removed from mainstream America. Rather, The Black Ledger speaks to our willingness to look beyond our own lives, to look beyond convenient labels of racial inferiority or superiority and to see people as people. That lesson remains timeless.
The Black Ledger is a riveting book that, at first reflection, presents itself as a crime thriller. But it is more than a crime thriller. Where this book succeeds is in its striking ability in taking on several permutations. The Black Ledger is a mystery. The Black Ledger is suspense. Yet, at its heart, the book is both a study in psychology and sociology. With themes of racism, love and adversity threaded within its narrative, The Black Ledger is thought-provoking. Perhaps this book will open up an honest dialogue about race relations, a conversation not centered on fear, mistrust and suspicion but one arising from mutual respect.
Ron Pickles is a young man at a crossroads in his life. Needing to provide for his wife and baby, Ron takes a job as a ledger agent with an insurance company. For Ron, this is supposed to be a temporary move. He is awaiting a letter from the electrician union and eager to began a career as an electrician. However, Fate cruelly intervenes putting Ron on a course that changes his life forever.
“Do you have a problem working with black people?” Ron is taken aback when he is asked this pointed question during his interview. Ron replies that he doesn’t, but what the novice ledger agent quickly realizes is that his job takes him into the heart of Chicago’s most dangerous and racially segregated ghetto, a place where gangs reign supreme and killings are a daily occurrence.
Allen doesn’t sugarcoat the narrative. He writes about extreme poverty, violence and the often hopeless circumstances of this black community. This is particularly risky for Allen who must tell this story through Ron’s eyes, a young white man thrust into an unfamiliar environment trying to do a difficult job selling and collecting insurance. Allen’s skill, I feel, is crafting Ron as the anti-hero in this tale. Ron makes missteps. He is awkward. He says and does the wrong things at times. Has Ron harbored racist ideas in the past? Yes. Do some of Ron’s black clients harbor racist ideas about him? Yes. These are two different worlds colliding where they both have fed into societal notions of racism. Allen shows the ignorance on both sides of the spectrum.
We see Ron’s character growth throughout the book. To help the character along in this process, his work as a ledger agent introduces him to two crucial supporting characters: Sandra Wesley and Ruppert. Sandra is a young mother of three children who isn’t content to continue as a welfare recipient stereotype; rather, she desires a better life for herself and her children and attends beauty school to make her dreams a reality. In addition, Sandra buys insurance from Ron as protection for herself and her children. Along the way, a special relationship emerges between these two fractured souls. This relationship serves the plot extremely well and is the foundation for some of the most emotionally heartbreaking moments of the book. Readers would be wise to pay particular note in these scenes as Allen meticulously foreshadows some key clues for the various plots.
Another intriguing character is Ruppert, a nefarious drug dealer who rules the streets with an iron fist. Ruppert is a scary guy, yet he is also a study in contradictions: The gun toting drug lord subscribes to an unexpected code of decency that surprises Ron and will undoubtedly surprise readers. Like the scenes with Sandra, Ron’s exchanges with Ruppert are genius towards establishing characters and advancing plot. Towards the end of the book, readers will find their hearts pounding alongside Ron. And like Ron, readers will feel the evil of the black ledger as it destroys lives. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but Allen’s writing talent will excite readers.
If there is the proverbial phoenix arising from the ashes in this book, it is Ron.
A word of caution: The Black Ledger contains very painful language. The hardest part for me was dealing with the painful language and profanity in the story. Because Allen writes from a raw, honest place, he made a courageous decision to construct his tale as realistic as possible. Realism isn’t pretty. Realism doesn’t apologize for offensive dialogue. Realism wants to tell the truth. Realism wants us to remove our blinders so that we can instead see with our hearts. I applaud D.G. Allen for taking the road less traveled towards realism as he tells an important, thought-provoking and enduring story.
For his debut effort, D.G. Allen gives readers well-written characters and plots, a mystery that comfortably unfolds, and gut wrenching emotion. The Black Ledger will keep readers talking for many years to come.