Harlan Ellison is this reporter’s favorite science fiction writer, so, even though Web of the City is not a science fiction novel, it was still of interest because it was Ellison’s first published book. He wrote it over 55 years ago, when he was stationed in the army at Fort Benning in Georgia, and this reissue returns it to the bookshelves after 25 years. It was originally released with the title Rumble.
This is a gritty story of New York gangs in the heyday of hot rods, leather jackets and switchblades. There is nothing romantic about this depiction of the gangs. no Marlon Brando or James Dean characters. These kids are violent, hopeless, and so caught in the web of the city that even the main protagonoist, Rusty Santoro, has very little chance to escape.
These kids scrabble and fight with knives, chains, fists, and guns. They party together, have sex together, and kill together and nobody can just walk away. But Rusty tries. Then something really horrible happens, and the city sucks Santoro back in so that only more violence lies in his way.
The novel was based on Ellison’s real life experience undercover in a gang, and the truth of it comes through. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel here, only the slightest lightening of the darkness. And even though it does not walk the thin line between science fiction and horror which Ellison has so often famously trod, it has many parts that sound like no other author. It keeps the tension and the interest high the whole way through, so that I am glad I read it even though hard crime is really not my genre.
The volume also contains three equally gritty and rough short stories, originally published in detective magazines in the mid-fifties. They are “No Way Out,” “No Game for Children” and “Stand Still and Die!”
“No Way Out” is an original part of the plot of Web of the City but with an even darker ending. “No Game for Children” pits an ordinary citizen against a thoroughly nasty juvenile delinquent, and “Stand Still and Die!” has a Korean war veteran trying to outfight and outlast a gang and its mastermind..
Nobody does grim and brutal better than Ellison, no matter in what genre he is writing. The quality of the writing gives this novel and these stories the sort of stark attractiveness of a Shakespeare tragedy.
This novel is recommended for those who enjoy crime novels with lots of grit and blood and for those with a real appreciation for Ellison himself.