|Vintage Pulp||Dec 6 2021|
William P. McGivern's 1961 novel Savage Streets was part of a wave of juvenile delinquent fiction characterized by the novels of Hal Elson and Harlan Ellison, and a nice example of a genre that rose in response to middle American fear and fascination with youth gangs. The narrative begins when some junior league thugs who call themselves the Chiefs begin extorting money from the pre-teen kids of a nearby suburb. The kids steal from their parents to satisfy these demands, but the thefts go unnoticed only for so long. The truth comes out, a suburban father intervenes with the gang on behalf of his son, and a fistfight results. Other parents in this conservative enclave are infuriated at the gang, and a group of them go to the police, but when the results aren't satisfactory they decide to deal with the Chiefs in a way the gang will understand—by hitting back twice as hard.
From this point, McGivern takes his tale in an interesting direction. The dads expect the police to function as tools of their anger. Any attempt to give the Chiefs equal treatment or due process is met with outrage. In other words, they expect to be protected by the law without being accountable to it, while they expect the Chiefs to be accountable to the law without being protected by it. This leads not to resolution, but to increasing distrust, violence, and finally disaster upon disaster. Later the dads realize that the genesis of the crisis may not have been the Chiefs' extortion after all, but something the dads were involved with even earlier—a law they helped push through the city council. They might have realized the law was unfair, but none of them cared enough to bother looking closely at it. McGivern really hit pay dirt with this book. It's well written, immersive, and relevant.