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Review: H.N.I.C. by Albert "Prodigy" Johnson

By Gabino Iglesias

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Every time a book by a renowned artist whose career has had nothing to do with the literary world lands on my desk, I cringe. Usually I chastise myself right after because digging into a tome with preconceived notions is never a great idea, but the fact that singers, models, reality TV quasi-celebrities, and actors insist on flooding the book market with garbage is painfully undeniable. Luckily, once in a while someone gets it right, and Albert "Prodigy" Johnson, half of the multiplatinum rap group Mobb Deep, is part of that select group.

H.I.N.C tells the story of Pappy, a man who's trying to leave behind a life of crime and close calls. When the last job Pappy does with his crew goes wrong and a man is left dead and they get no money, he decides that was the last straw. However, the crew's leader, a violent man they call Black, insists on one last gig that will leave them all with enough money to start a new life. Every instinct is tells Pappy to grab his bags and disappear, but Black's insistence, which dances between pleading and threatening, makes him agree to do one last job, but only because he knows it's what it'll take to earn his freedom from Black. The last job turns out worst than even Pappy could have imagined and with three bullet holes in his body, he realizes that killing is sometimes they only way to get what you want and the only form of justice available to those on the wrong side of the tracks.

Prodigy and co-author Steven Savile constructed a short, punchy narrative that's infused with the same hardened atmosphere that's characteristic of Prodigy's songs. The dialogue feels real and very character in the story is flawed because they all come from the same ugly background of drugs, crime, and poverty. However, some of them possess a few redeeming qualities and that's one of the things that make the narrative work. The second element that made this an enjoyable read is its fast pacing. Short chapters and few descriptive passages make H.N.I.C. a one-shot read (you know, it might take you a bit longer, but you can definitely read this one in one sitting).

Although they did some things right, H.N.I.C. also benefits from the things the authors didn't do. For example, they didn't try to overcomplicate the plot or reinvent the wheel. This is a short story with a straightforward plot and no unnecessary embellishments. The characters depth is compromised because of it, but keeping everything clean and to the point ultimately made H.N.I.C. better than it would've been if the authors tried to enrich it with superfluous writing and more dialogue. While the bad guy trying to get out of the crime life, the impossible and dangerous love, and the quest for revenge are all crime fiction tropes, they are mixed well here and they feel fresh, which is no easy task.

H.N.I.C. is a dark slice of contemporary urban life from the mind of a man who has been writing songs about it for more than two decades. The novel also marks the inauguration of Infamous Books, a partnership between Infamous Records and Brooklyn-based independent publisher Akashic Books, whose Noir Series and Drug Chronicles Series have made a household name among crime fiction readers. If H.N.I.C. is ant indication of what's to come, Infamous Books is off to a solid start.