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Sunday 2 February 2020

‘Hands Up’ by Stephen Clark

Published by WiDo Publishing: Salt Lake City, Utah,
28 September 2019.
ISBN 978-1-947966-20-8 (PB)

Hands Up is told from the viewpoints of three people, two young and one middle-aged, who all live in Philadelphia.  They find themselves caught up in the most horrendous nightmare that two families, one black and one white could ever imagine.

Our first voice is Ryan, a young, white, rookie cop. He is a straightforward, church-going lad who is engaged to be married. Unfortunately, he has just shot a black, unarmed teenager called Tyrell Wakefield. Ryan feels guilty about the shooting and wants to tell the truth about what actually happened, both to Tyrell’s family and to Detective Wiley from internal affairs who is investigating the shooting. He is hampered from doing so because his regular partner is Sergeant Greg Byrnes, a dishonest and racist cop. Byrnes can’t be relied on to give Ryan and his family good advice, but they feel loyalty to him because he was with Ryan’s father when he was shot and killed several years ago and has acted as a surrogate father to Ryan ever since.

Our second voice is Tyrell’s sister Jade. She is in her mid-twenties and has been emotionally unstable ever since her father, Kelly, abandoned her and the rest of his family when she was ten.  Jade wants two things: justice for Tyrell, and to get Kelly, whom she neither likes nor trusts, out of her life.   She will do anything to achieve her ambitions.

Kelly is our third voice. An erstwhile gangster, he returns to Philadelphia as a reformed character. Kelly wants two things: to get his wife and family back and to get justice for his son Tyrell.  To this end Kelly embarks on a mission to help rehabilitate young criminals.  This job, and Kelly’s future, are compromised when, in a desperate attempt to win Jade’s approval, Kelly asks an old mate –a criminal one – to do him a favour.

When a therapist recommends that Ryan should confront his fears by going to live in a predominately black area, Ryan and Jade meet and are attracted to each other. Detective Wiley and Jade persuade Ryan to entrap Byrnes. But Jade is also following her own agenda. It isn’t just Byrnes that Jade wants to destroy.

The shooting of unarmed black youngsters by a white policeman is a difficult and uncomfortable subject to deal with, but I thought Stephen Clark handled it confidently and even-handedly. Internal conflicts within the two families are sympathetically described as are a host of other characters; mothers, aunts, friends, lawyers, civic officials, who leap off the pages as being warm, caring, suffering, cantankerous, argumentative and manipulative as they search in their different ways, both private and public, for closure for themselves and Ryan and justice for Tyrell.   With no possibility of a happy ending, and the knowledge that those who have lost a child will never stop grieving, Hands Up manages to provide reasonable compromises on the way forwards for two of its three main characters.  It is a thought-provoking book that, notwithstanding our close involvement with its tragic content, makes a very satisfying and enjoyable read.
Reviewer Angela Crowther

Stephen Clark is a former award-winning journalist who served as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and as a politics editor for the Washington, D.C. bureau of As a reporter for the Utica Observer-Dispatch, he won a New York Newspaper Publishers Association Award of Distinguished Community Service for his investigation into the financial struggles of nonprofit services.  He also won a Society of Professional Journalists Award for Investigative Reporting at the Stamford Advocate for his series exposing an elderly grifter’s charity organization. Stephen grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and now lives in North Jersey with his wife and son. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Arcadia University and a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.

Angela Crowther is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner.

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