"Beat L.A" by Gary Phillips and Tony Chavira
Review by Lily Gardner

You could argue that gentrification is nothing but a continuation of what America was founded on; essentially you kick out the locals and take their land.

Beat L.A., a new collection of three linked tales, two comics and a short story, zeroes in on the gentrification battle. The writers have a long history in comics and community organizing: Los Angeles-based Gary Phillips, the community organizer and crime novelist and comic writer responsible for Ivan Monk, Nate Hollis and many other characters, and Tony Chavira, the comic writer behind Tuna Carpaccio. Beat L.A. examines what happens to the local underclass when the one-percenters want inner-city property.

Who champions the other ninety-nine percent? Meet Gary Phillips' Bicycle Cop Dave, first introduced to readers back in 2008, on the web comics site, Four Story, and making his print debut in a short graphic story simply titled "Bicycle Cop Dave."

Yeah, a bicycle cop. Wipe that grin off your face -- he's tough as hell. There's nowhere he won't go and nothing he won't do -- up to and including chasing down a speeding truck. On a bicycle. Whatever he did in the past that got him busted down from detective to bicycle patrol remains mysterious, but I got to think it was colorful.

Dave's beat is the turbulent landscape of L.A., home of the exploited working poor. Once they miss a rent payment they join the homeless who cluster in abandoned buildings. The only people who advocate for them are a handful of activists and a few cops that give a fuck. Dave is one of them.

He makes for a great hero. He defends the helpless and does his best to exact justice from the corrupt. That's swell, but the guy's got more edges than razor-wire; there's his past and then this hint that he may have taken a bribe from a crack-smoking attorney at the beginning of the story.

Dave encounters a strange adversary, Genghis Rabbit, a man-sized rabbit and the best-dressed character in the story. Genghis is at the scene when there's trouble, spies on the high and the low and metes out rough justice as he sees fit. He works against the drug traffickers and the evil developers.

So, does he cooperate with the cops? Hell, no. Genghis Rabbit trusts no one. Wearing a Brooks Brothers suit, Genghis lobs grenades at Bicycle Cop Dave with one hand and with the other gives Dave the evidence needed to indict the true villains. Is Genghis the crazy assassin Dave learns about from his ex-partner? Only Gary Phillips knows. What I know is that Genghis is one fascinating bunny.

And that may be the best thing about "Bicycle Cop Dave": Each of the characters from Dave to the rascally rabbit is complicated, some characters who seem dirty at the beginning of the story end up righteous by the end and vice versa. If you like your characters nuanced and your plots twisted, you'll love this one.

Following "Bicycle Cop Dave" is a dandy short story titled "A to Z" co-written by Gary Phillips and Tony Chavira, and featuring two fearsome bad guys, the muscle for the evil one-percenters. These guys seem invincible. Then Genghis Rabbit shows up with more tricks up his well-tailored sleeve. I hope it's not too much of a spoiler to tell you that in this story we learn that Genghis's rabbit ears are real!

The final story, "Brand and Reese," written by Tony Chavira, is also in comics form. Brand and Reese are two patrol cops who've worked together longer than most people stay married. This story deals more intimately with the problems of the homeless, the handful of activists who advocate for them, and the cops who try to keep order. Politicians, developers and gang-bangers work in concert to exploit the homeless and the helpless. The surprises in this story have to do with their double crosses and betrayals.

The two beleagured cops move through the story doing their best to do a good job, but mostly they're witnesses to the corruption and violence.

I didn't feel the forward momentum in "Brand and Reese" that I felt with "Bicycle Cop Dave." Dave is after Genghis Rabbit and the people who killed his ex-partner. Brand and Reese go from crisis to crisis without a goal beyond their job and living with what they've seen and experienced on the street. That said, I feel I find these cops very sympathetic.

The black and white art by Manoel Magalhaes works gorgeously with the text and furthers the story. Bryan Lee drew the cover and two full-page illustrations which are beautiful as well.

I highly recommend this book for its complicated characters, its twisty stories, its art and most of all because its villains are the same villains we all face: America's voracious, immoral uber-wealthy. Beat L.A. asks difficult questions and doesn't provide any easy answers.

Personally, I see the locals' point of view, but hey, isn't there some good in turning abandoned buildings into condos and sprucing up the landscaping? Just saying.

Beat L.A....Buy this book
Written b
y Gary Phillips and Tony Chavira
Art by Manoel Magalhaes and Bryan Lee
Four Story/Down and Out Books, copyright 2013.

Thrilling Detective Reviewer-at-Large Lily Gardner grew up in Minneapolis longing to be blonde and live in California surfing and writing poetry. Over the years her tastes changed: California became Oregon and poetry became mysteries. She learned to embrace her brunette self. Lily loves all things noir, fermentation, Motown, opera, and short-legged dogs.

She currently lives in Portland with her husband, two corgis, several thousand books and one electronic reader.
A Bitch Called Hope, a noir mystery set on the rainy streets of Portland, is Lily's first novel and featuring private eye Lennox Cooper. She is currently working on her second Cooper noir: Betting Blind..


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