In the spring of 1992, the policemen who beat Rodney King were acquitted. Six days of riots, with extensive burnings and widespread lethal violence, followed. Now Ryan Gattis has written a novel—All Involved (Ecco)—of that catastrophic aftermath. Gattis’s novel focuses on the effects of so few policemen trying to police such a wide area. As one of Gattis’s characters observes, “Only 7,900 officers and sheriffs police this city of almost 3.6 million, and county of 91.5 million.” By comparison, there were an estimated 102,000 active gang members in the same area. Says another character, “That is not a statistic, sir; that is an army.”
The turmoil created a cover for gang members to settle scores, to murder practically without consequence. All Involved begins with the killing of Ernesto, himself not a gang member, with a brother and sister who were gangbangers. Ernie is brutally beaten, then even more brutally dragged behind a car. What follows are gang wars to avenge Ernie, and then to avenge Ernie’s killers, and so on and so on. All Involved depicts the spiral of violence with devastating specificity and vivid detail that gives names and faces to the statistics.
Gattis concentrates on Latino gangs, and in the course of the book tells stories of violence from the perspective of a dozen or so characters. All Involved is heartbreaking and revealing, a book that humanizes despite its gritty and often hopeless subject matter. It is a significant glimpse into a world most of us not inhabit and can barely imagine.