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  • jrblackburnsmith


Last time, I wrote about what was behind Forgiveness. Let me assure you, Retribution is the exact opposite of forgiveness, although it tackles similar themes. This novel wasn't a response to a national tragedy, but rather something closer. As a young child growing up in Northeast Ohio (we moved away when I was in 4th grade) I was vaguely aware of the activities of organized crime in our community. Truthfully, I was part of it. At the age of 5 I was in a 'street gang' of neighborhood kids who stole things and fought with other gangs (I hit a kid in the face with a thrown rock in one fight). Since I was the smallest tag along, I was the kid who held the merch when we walked out of a store without paying. I lost my toenails when I dropped a heavy construction torch on my foot while we were stealing from a construction site. I remember my dad telling me that we had two car bombings in our neighborhood in the 9 months we lived in Warren, Oh, which is a dozen miles northwest of Youngstown.

In our cultural obsession with mobsters, we focus on NYC and Chicago, but Cleveland and Youngstown and everything in between have storied criminal histories as well. During prohibition, northeast Ohio was home to the Sugar Wars, because bootleggers needed sugar to make their liquor and it all flowed through the ports in Cleveland.

Retribution is set in Cleveland, Ohio in 1939. 'Mose' Mosely is the retribution for Big Mike Tolliver, essentially growing up in the Cleveland mob after the murder of his parents. The Cleveland families are operating under an uneasy truce - Eliot Ness has moved east from Chicago hoping to clean up Cleveland the way he did the Windy City. It a sweltering summer, ripe for problems as the bodies start to pile up. The first hit goes down outside a safe house Mose is guarding. Was Mose the target, or his boss, or Nancy, Tolliver's mistress?

Mose has only a few days to figure out who is behind the violence before all-out war. Complicating things, Nancy, Tolliver's mistress, tells Mose she is in love with him. Can he stay alive long enough to stop the war?

This novel explores the issues that drive violence, the reasons humans can't walk away, the need for total destruction of our perceived enemies. It is also a fun, action-packed read with lots of twists and turns to keep the reader engaged. If you are sensing that I have an affinity for morally ambiguous people, duh! Those are the folks who can change but have plenty of reason to fail in that attempt. People that are all good or all bad have very narrow arcs and can be harder to write because they are so limited. I often claim my characters possess some life force of their own and surprise me with their actions, which is true, but they must remain true to themselves. Ambiguity is critical for their success.

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