The roiling action of Ernest Brawley’s novel The Rap takes place in and around a penitentiary much like San Quentin. The time is the early 70s, when George Jackson, Angela Davis and others were agitating for prison reform, and the authorities were doing everything they could do to thwart them. A young, sympathetic guard, Arvin Weed, attends night classes at a local college in pursuit of a dream to break away from his worst nightmare: working at the prison forever, like his father.
But his reputation as a Vietnam vet rifle marksman draws him unwittingly into a conspiracy to murder revolutionary, black militant leader, William Galliot, who’s just been sent to prison. Arvin’s evil cousin, Wasco Weed, also a recent arrival to the prison, fancies himself a criminal genius, and has, in fact, been directly tapped by conservative political eminences to assassinate Galliot, the revolutionary.
Wasco shrewdly manipulates everyone in his orbit, including his voluptuous wife, Moke, an almost supernatural creature given to midnight swims in the ocean and driven by a ferocious craving for money and power; Fast-Walking Miniver, a young guard and the warden’s scapegrace son; Big Arv, Arvin’s loutish father; Lobo Miniver, the urbane and opportunistic warden; and even Wasco’s own mother, Evie, the bawdy proprietress of a whorehouse. Moving from the tragic to the comic, the obscene to the exalted, the real to the surreal, The Rap is the ultimate American saga.
Ernest Brawley is a native Californian. His father was a prison guard, and he was raised on the grounds of several penitentiaries. He worked his way through college as a forklift driver at a tomato packing shed, a switchman on the Southern Pacific Railroad, and as a guard at San Quentin Prison, where he saw duty in the Gun Towers, the Big Yard and Death Row.
He attended the University of California at Santa Barbara and San Francisco State University, where he was granted several writing scholarships and a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. Since then, he has spent his life writing novels and film scripts, teaching, and traveling the world. He has published three novels, THE RAP, SELENA, and THE ALAMO TREE. THE RAP and SELENA will be republished soon by Little Machines Press/Roots Digital. His latest novel, BLOOD MOON, will soon be published by Roots Digital as well.
Brawley has taught at the University of Hawaii, Hunter College, New York University and the Pantheon-Sorbonne. He has lived and worked in Argentina, Spain, France, Italy, England, India, Thailand and Japan. And once in his youth he hitchhiked all the way around the world. He is a recipient of the Joseph Henry Jackson Award in Literature and served for several years on the Fiction Award Committee of the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington.
Kirkus Review of his novel THE RAP:
The definitive prison blockbuster — raw and brawling — perhaps necessarily overlong as it piles details and encounters and endlessly intertwined relationships into a powerful and engrossing first novel by a writer in the James Jones tradition. “”The rap”” refers as much to the guards as the inmates they supposedly protect both from society and each other — for they are as much locked into prison life as the convicts. Specifically this applies to Little Arv, son of a prison sergeant, and his pal and brother-in-law, Fast-Walking Miniver, son of the warden, who both exist in the shadow of Little Arv’s satanic cousin Wasco Weed, Arv’s feared (yet perversely admired) childhood bully companion.
Wasco has been promised he’ll be let off a murder rap if he only offs William Galliot, a black militant leader in the clink on trumped-up charges. Waste uses his wife, an other-worldly (but definitely not ethereal) Hawaiian water freak named Moke to sucker in Arv — who, knowing this, goes along anyway, loving her with crazy passion — as she sets him up for official blackmail by getting him to smuggle in letters to Galliot. But even the best-laid plans of cons and criminal bureaucrats go wrong.
As Moke falls for Arv, the blacks use their escape plan in the nick of time, and Arv — the presumed hatchet man — has the choice of shooting his cousin or Galliot. As a former guard, the writer presents an enormous amount of authentic fascinating info on stuff like prisoner hierarchy (as complex and corrupt as the one outside) and pimping; his characters are both improbable and believable, and the writing is as tough and gritty as it should be — and then