Hands Up (2019) – Stephen Clark

Title: Hands Up
Author: Stephen Clark
Publisher: WiDo publishing
Date of publication: 2019
Star Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer: This novel was kindly sent to me by the author, Stephen Clark in exchange for an honest review.

“Hands up, don’t shoot!” “Black men are an endangered species” “Black Lives Matter”

I will not pretend to know all about American politics and the racial struggles faced in the US by thousands of people every day. Having watched the news and being someone who considers themselves fairly well-read I am aware of the heinous crimes committed by white American policeman towards African American citizens. I do however

come from a country (South Africa) that has infamously displayed gross levels of racial injustice, and I am therefore not unaware of the violence and cruelties people of color face daily. That being said it is not enough to simply say that you are aware of racism and protests and the Black Lives Matter movement and the constant reference to a world where the phrase ‘white privilege’ is a real thing. The struggle between races will always be just that, a struggle, because we refuse to put ourselves in a position that allows us to see the whole picture. Not just a fraction of the truth, but the whole truth. In so many ways writing these stories is what gets that all important conversation going. As heart-breaking as the stories are they are not even close to what the reality feels like to the victims and those left behind.

Stephen Clark’s novel begins with the killing of a young African American man whose name, Tyrell Wakefield, will become a name everyone will remember. Fatally shot by two white policemen after a so-called routine patrol, the incident will become national news within minutes after the shooting. The two policemen involved, Ryan Quinn and Greg Byrnes will have their names kept secret from the public and the victim’s family.

Ryan Quinn, the rookie cop who was responsible for shooting Tyrell struggles with the guilt of what happened, whilst his partner Byrnes is suspiciously nonchalant despite having a clear history of being racist and violent in the past. Both are put on suspension, and both deal with the repercussions of that night in very different ways.

At the other end of the tragedy is Tyrell’s family. His sister Jade who was incredibly close to Tyrell was waiting for her brother to pick her up from work the night he was shot. Jade’s determination to discover the truth, as well as her endearing toughness make her the most likeable protagonist in a novel that showcases a number of anti-heroes. Besides Tyrell’s mother Regina and younger brother Donte who are of course gutted by the untimely death of Tyrell, Kelly Randolph, the Wakefield kid’s father returns to North Philadelphia after a ten year absence to seek revenge for his son’s death. Kelly, a former gangster, left Regina and the children many years ago and tries his best to fall back into his family’s good graces. Jade refuses to accept that her father has changed and goes off in search of the truth on her own, leaving her absent father to make amends with Regina and Donte.

Back at the precinct Ryan’s disillusionment with his partner and the fatal night leave questions open for the reader constantly as it becomes clear that not everything is as it seems. Clark has a clear knack for creating empathy for his characters, and it is hard not to feel torn apart by their individual suffering.

This novel, written by Clark whose impeccable language though faultless, is not without a few clichéd and convoluted plot points. However this in no way deters from the overall sense of hopelessness and disillusionment the characters experience which could very likely be Clark’s intention as racial profiling is in itself an act of generalization. As a society we have become desensitized to brutal acts of violence and the constant examples of hypocrisy displayed by people in authority. Throughout the novel Clark addresses other issues such as alcoholism, self-harming, homelessness, religious redemption, police brutality and morality as an open-ended concept. Clark’s portrayal of Philadelphia is also noteworthy for its role in aiding the racial divide. I have always marveled at an author’s ability to transform a character’s location into a character of its own, and Clark succeeds at this perfectly.

With impeccable grace, a host of well-rounded characters and a surprising ending, Stephen Clark gives voice to a story told often but not nearly enough.

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