Dark angels by Ron Thomas
Harbour Publishing, 2018. ISBN 9781922134318
(Age:16+) Recommended. Set in Darlinghurst in the 1930s, this story centres upon Gilbert Maggs, a young teenager who is chased from the family home by a knife wielding drunken father. His only refuge is the streets which are controlled by ruthless criminals who don't hesitate to reach for a hand gun or slash with a cut throat razor to win a fight or enforce their will. Well known historical characters appear in this tale.
Without protection and support, Gilbert becomes so desperate that he steals some bananas from a shop, is apprehended and finds himself facing the infamous Guido Calletti of the Darlinghurst "Push" or gang.
Fortunately for Gilbert, the shopkeeper from whom he stole takes pity on him and provides work and a place in the back of his shop to sleep. Gilbert enjoys being well fed and safe for the first time in his life and is a loyal and hardworking employee.
Sadly however, a very realistic situation develops whereby having received a favour from Guido, Gilbert is expected to reciprocate. The fifteen year old finds himself becoming involved in criminal activity which is initially petty and relatively harmless, yet insidiously continues, gradually becoming more serious and violent. Gilbert's conscience troubles him greatly. For him there is no escape via ignorance or self-delusion and he readily understands that he makes a choice to profit from immoral behaviour.
Adolescent readers should readily identify the parallel of Gilbert's situation with that faced by those in the current era who join gangs to fulfil a sense of belonging, yet find they can't dissociate when activities become extreme. Similarly Gilbert's forays into criminal activity mirror those of youths dealing drugs. Initial experiences may appear daring or exciting yet often lead inexorably to a point of no return where what is owed to those who control them ensures that they cannot escape increasingly threatening behaviour.
Gilbert's dilemma is portrayed very well in this story. He wants to lead an honest life but struggles to avoid the attention of both Guido and the thugs who compete with him - men with no respect for law who don't hesitate to destroy property and maim people to achieve their goals.
Gilbert fears for the safety of those he has befriended and must tread warily on the road to becoming the man he wants to be.