The narrator of Police and Thieves, Doojie, is a small-time dealer who lives in a garage behind a laundromat with his two partners in crime. They sell dope of questionable quality at reasonable prices. But when one night Doojie sees a renegade cop shoot an unarmed Mexican, he knows that things are about to change. Soon he and his buddies are running for their lives. Fast, ferocious, gritty, and bleak, Police and Thieves is contemporary noir at its best, and one of the most ambitious entries in the Peter Plate canon.
There's a point in Plate's new novel when the narrator, a nickel-bag drug dealer named Doojie, spies a hooker walking up the street. What he sees has nothing to do with sex. Instead, he recognizes the washed-out eyes, the track marks, the veiny legs--all the signs of a disposable human being, just like Doojie and just like everyone else in this oddly moving chronicle of street life in San Francisco's gritty Mission District. The book follows the lives of three small-time drug dealers whose ambitious plans belie the reality of their pathetic circumstances. Besides Doojie, there's Bobo, an ex-convict who provides the trio with a little muscle, and Eichmann (the name is ironic, since Doojie is a Jew), who thinks of himself as the leader of their "cartel," envisioning a rapid climb up the drug hierarchy. Together, the three subsist as squatters in an abandoned garage behind a Laundromat, eat take-out when they have the money, smoke a lot of dope and rip off other dealers when they get the chance. They epitomize the predatory, sad lives of the residents of the Mission that Plate conjures with a piercing eye for detail and mood. The existence of the three dealers is complicated by a cop named Flaherty, who shoots and kills an innocent man one day in a random street dispute. The problem is that Doojie witnesses the shooting. Flaherty tries desperately to track him down, and eventually he grows so obsessed with killing Doojie that the lawman becomes just another desperate soul in the Mission whose reckless attempts at self-preservation prove to be his undoing. Plate has written about this slice of life before (Snitch Factory; One Foot Off the Gutter), and he continues to do so with tender yet unflinching insight. His portrait of Doojie, whom he traces back to a hard, demented upbringing, stirringly shows how good people wind up doing rotten things. FYI: According to the publisher, Plate himself lived as a squatter for eight years in San Francisco.