BY STANLEY BENNETT CLAY
Full disclosure. I became acquainted with author J. S. Lewis after reading his brilliant first novel “Jamaican American Thug Drama” two years ago. In those two years this young (now 25 years old), gifted and black Jamaican writer has written and published seven—yes seven—astonishing full length novels to much critical acclaim.
I don’t make it a habit to write reviews of books written by close friends and acquaintances. Writers E. Lynn Harris, James Earl Hardy, Tina Andrews and Terrance Dean were and are dear friends. Although I’ve contributed cover quotes for some of their works, I have yet to publish reviews of any of their books for obvious reasons.
Although he looks up to me as a dear friend and mentor, it would be a literary disservice for me not to publicly sing the praises of this prodigious and prolific young writer.
Objectively speaking, J. S. Lewis is simply one of the most promising new literary voices to come along in quite a while. With the release of “Jamaican Gangsters & American Thugs,” Book 6 of his Jamaican American Thug series, we are once again thrust into the dark world of Caribbean mafia and South American drug cartels where blood flows like spring water and Shakespearean-like tragedies and triumphs collide.
Lewis continues the tale of anti-hero Jamaican American mafia crown prince Dre Malcolm of the powerful mixed-race Malcolm family, and his courageous but life-threatening same sex affair with his handsome, young and sensitive through-hell-and-back Jamaican lover Jevaughn Wilson.
Dre’s cousin Donte, whose father, the homophobic Biggs, Dre killed to save Jevaughn, has a love-hate relationship with Dre. His words say as much about how he feels about Dre as how he feels about himself:
“Though nobody suspected it, Dre was no pushover. Our family wasn’t tolerant of that lifestyle, and if any other members held such desires, it was best they keep it to themselves. But not Dre. He was the boss, and he was going to live the life he loved, regardless of what his four remaining prestigious uncles, mafia-granddad, or even his own father thought. He isolated himself from the movers and shakers in the family for a simple life in the Caribbean…if it had been anyone else running that aspect of the business, I wouldn’t be as comfortable as with it being my rebellious, non-conformist, favorite cousin, Andre Malcolm.
“I looked up to him the most simply because of those qualities. I was the do-as-they-tell-you kind of guy: go to school, get a good education, and take over the family business. Live like everyone else and then die, leaving my children to continue what generations before me had started. Where were the joys of carefree living and the thrills of not knowing what tomorrow may bring? Where was the pang of hunger and not being able to pay the bills? Too much privilege left me scarred and empty…unworldly lonely.”
The story begins with Jevaughn wrestling to wake from a horrific dream. He’s eventually rescued from this nightmare by Dre’s loving embrace and re-assurances. But the nightmare proves prophetic as Dre is again faced with the dilemma of giving up Jevaughn to save Jevaughn’s life. Dre leaves a heart-broken Jevaughn in Jamaica and moves to the family’s Florida compound as he prepares to take over the family business.
Kraigie, an-ex cop in Jamaica who has often come to Jevaughn’s emotional rescue, is there for him again. Feelings blossom. But Jevaughn’s feelings for Dre are stubborn; unrelenting. Although he has strong feelings for Kraigie that are more than reciprocal, he openly longs for Dre. And even with the threat of death, he must see his true love one last time.
Kraigie understands, and sacrifices his own feelings to take Jevaughn to America to be with Dre. What follows is a complicated and totally engaging roller-coaster ride of complex emotions and non-stop action.
With operatic passion Lewis fills his pleading and bleeding characters with twisted nobility as they kill enemies and family in the name of honor and fall on the sword in the name of love. Aging kingpins are massacred in their beds and young children are orphaned right before their eyes. Best friends are forced to fight to the death for the vengeful amusement of mafia dons and their henchmen.
And just as the horizon lights up with the possibility of a happily-ever-after for our young lovers Dre and Jevaughn, fate rears its ugly head with a cliff-hanging ending.
This gripping novel jumps head-first into the controversy of Jamaican homophobia, same-sex marriage, racism, family loyalty, betrayal, and even offers a touching and beautiful transgender storyline.
Even if I would have never met Mr. Lewis, I would still be one of his biggest fans. Bravo!