This is a sequel to the author’s debut, Lola, and picks up pretty much where that novel ended (just a few years have passed). Lola Vasquez has now been outed as leader of the Crenshaw Six street gang, and the gang itself has grown in size substantially (the six referring to the core members) and dominates the Los Angeles drug scene to a greater extent than before. With the gang’s expansion has come money, and lots of it, which Lola launders through a legal pot dispensary amongst other methods and uses to send her adopted daughter to a posh private school.

But with success has come risk, one such being that one might sell heroin to the wrong person and that this might have serious consequences. Lola has issued her gang with the directive not to sell to well-to-do white people. This isn’t because she holds them in any great esteem, but rather that should they overdose the police reaction tends to be severe. She’s well aware that the same cannot be said for when a non-white dies, but she is nothing if not practical. At the outset of American Heroin an SUV of young, wealthy, white college students arrive in Lola’s hood and one of her gang sell them heroin. I won’t divulge spoilers, but needless to say one of their number is the son of somebody very powerful indeed; when he overdoses, Lola’s predictions of dire consequences come to pass.

Lola has a soft spot for abused women and kids. One day a pregnant woman comes to see her to say that her husband is about to be released from prison. He used to beat her, and she fears he will now beat her child. By good fortune, Lola’s brother, Hector, is detained in the same prison as the husband (for a murder Lola in fact was responsible for, events which occurred in the previous title) and she contacts him now to order the hit. But Lola soon discovers that she’s been lied to, that the woman is not married to the man she has asked Lola to kill, is not even pregnant but had strapped padding to her stomach. Lola tries to call off the hit but too late. When she learns that the man her brother killed was in fact a founding member of a very dangerous Mexican cartel, one which now is set on revenge, she knows her troubles have only just begun.

The subplot of Lola’s attempts to bring up her adopted daughter and create a “normal” family life for her continues in this book from the last. Lola always had a keen awareness of racial disparity and this is sharpened in this title as she finds her attracted to the wealthy white father of one of her daughter’s schoolmates. All this adds to the nuance of the tale and fleshes out Lola Vasquez as a character.

If I have one criticism of this book, it is that the cartels Lola and the Crenshaw Six have come up against in both the first book and this sequel appear both relatively small (Lola only has to despatch a few key members to see them off) and tame to the real-life version. One only has to google the Mexican drug cartels to read tales of barbarity that are truly horrific. Decapitates corpses hanging from bridges, mass burials and corpses dissolved in acid are the norm for these people. I would like to see the author notch the danger up for book three (I presume there will be third title) to truly existential levels. Have the Crenshaw Six come up against something like the Los Zetas.

That minor observation aside, American Heroin is a worthy sequel to the author’s debut and continues Lola Vasquez’s story nicely.

James Pierson 4/4

American Heroin by Melissa Scrivner Love
Point Blank 9781786075369 pbk Mar 2019