Cover Image: The System

The System

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Another great read from Ryan Gattis. This time we are following a cast of characters involved in a shooting in their journey throught the US justice system. A riveting read, compellingly constructed.
Was this review helpful?
This is quite a slow burning novel but has enough about it to keep you turning the pages. A very well (or so it seems) researched and written story of the US criminal justice system and the abuses of same. Thanks to #picador #PanMcMillan and #netgalley for the ARC in exchange for my review.
Was this review helpful?
Phew what a journey that was! A dark and compelling snapshot of gang culture and the American criminal justice system, which can be both good and corrupt, following a gang shooting. 

The book is written in a very interesting way of multiple first party narratives so we really get to know what the characters are thinking and feeling. From the gang members to the parole officers, police officers, lawyers ... there must be around 15 characters we hear from to tell the story.

It begins with a crime ordered by a gang from within a prison for a dealer, Scrappy, to be shot.

‘Dreamer’ is in the process of being dumped by his girlfriend but he doesn’t realise this will actually benefit him immensely in the long run.

Augie who has just gained his latest fix from his dealer witnesses her shooting. His quick action in putting a tourniquet on her leg saves her life. He pockets the gun to sell later. And also take all the drugs she has hidden on her before the police arrive.

Unfortunately for him his new parole officer,Petrillo, visits his home and finding him high and therefore in contravention of his parole terms, searches his home. He finds the gun. Augie knows this will mean a long prison sentence so in a bid to avoid prison he tells Petrillo what he saw. The corrupt Petrillo uses this info for his own end, persuading Augie to lie about what he saw. Petrillo wants Dreamer’s girlfriend for himself and this seems like the perfect way to remove him from her life.

Gangs look after their own so how will this play out?

Gatiss writes some excellent scenes as we are carried along with the accused, the witnesses, the law enforcement officers, the lawyers and those gang members left on the outside to work out what actually happened that night.

I admit I struggled a bit to get into the book as it did not grip me immediately but the background info is essential to understand the story.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and the publishers Picador for an advance copy of this book to read and review.
Was this review helpful?
The System is a dark, gritty and sinister legal thriller all about the consequences and implications of the United States criminal justice system. Set against the backdrop of Lynwood in South Central Los Angeles, around 19 months after the LA/Rodney King Riots, Gattis sets about exploring both the different stages of the system as it progresses and also the array of distinct entities involved in order to keep the wheel of justice turning. It's December 6, 1993, and heroin addict Augie Clark, witnesses his dealer, Scrappy, getting shot outside her mother’s house, and recognises the shooter as gangbanger Wizard, but doesn’t know who the guy with Wizard is. Clark saves Scrappy’s life with some quick first aid, calls an ambulance—and pockets the gun used in the shooting left at the scene. The next day, Clark’s parole officer finds the gun during a routine check on Clark, and blackmails him to finger Wizard and Wizard’s usual accomplice, Dreamer, who has no felony record. Following the aftermath of the crime for all involved, those accused of it, those who witnessed it, the law enforcement who investigated it, the lawyers who prosecuted and defended it, and those left behind on the outside, we get a multifaceted look into the cogs in motion through immersive multiple first-person monologues. Everyone has a well-defined role to play in this legal symphony. 

This is a fascinating and refreshingly original method of illustrating both what works and what doesn't regarding the U.S. criminal justice system, and by utilising an engaging fictional murder to depict the wide-ranging positives and negatives that come from such a system, we get to view exactly how the complex, intertwined sections of this system play out. Discussed in a compassionate, moving and intricately informative fashion, this richly woven and extensively researched novel becomes ever more thought-provoking as it progresses and paints a compelling portrait of the criminal networks that often operate from within prisons. An authentic, intelligent and superbly written piece of social commentary on a system consisting of many moving parts and inevitable fundamental flaws that once noticed can be “fixed”, at least until the next one makes an appearance, The System highlights that our legal system(s), and this is true of them all across the world, despite having developed and evolved over centuries, are still very much a work in progress and must adapt to fit the changing times. All in all, a scintillating, dramatic courtroom drama but at the same time so much more than that — it's questioning, full of sharp observation, profound social criticism and razor-sharp characterisation — a resonant and relevant page-turner. Highly recommended.
Was this review helpful?
An in-depth researched book on the criminal system in LA from numerous perspectives. Well drawn out characters from all sides of the social divide , each talking in first person narrative in their individual dialect and dialogue increasing the accuracy of characterisation and believable personas. The story relates to a miscarriage of justice where the chance of a fair hearing is weighted against the poor and uneducated. There are no black and white issues just shades of grey where those charged with seeing justice carried out are often as bad if not worse than the criminal. The storyline delves into court issues and processes which for some may slow down the level of interest but necessary if reader wishes to form an overall perspective of gang culture and the flawed system charged with tackling corrective measures. Every credit to the author in his attempt to highlight that gang culture in America is not as simplistic as our casual understanding from reporting and news bulletins.  Not an easy read but one that will reward and increase understanding of the gulf between the have and have nots. Many thanks to publisher and NetGalley for this ARC.
Was this review helpful?
Ryan Gattis came to prominence with his 2015 novel All Involved, an exploration of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots from a range of points of view. Gattis returns to that time in his latest novel The System, set a year later and with a different angle. As Gattis makes clear in the opening, his intention is to explore the American justice system from the crime through arrest, detention and the court system. Again, he does this through a range of points of view. But this is more than just an exploration of that system, it is a meditation on its self-perpetuating nature, how greater adherence to “the system” makes the system worse.
Even before the prologue, Gattis sets out his intent – to explore a single crime – “those accused of it, those who witnessed it, the law enforcement who investigated it, the lawyers who prosecuted and defended it and those left behind on the outside”. It is Los Angeles 1993, a year in which, again as Gattis sets out, 15% of the US jail population were housed in California. And power has shifted to the point where prison gangs were able to direct activity on the streets. The crime that forms the centre of this narrative is an example of this activity. A small time drug dealer is shot by members of a rival gang, on orders from high ranking members in jail. The shooting is witnessed by Augie, a drug addict looking to score, who also takes the gun which was dropped the scene. Augie’s parole officer Petrillo, finds the gun, hears the story and realises that if he plants the gun he can use it not only to arrest the shooter, known as Wizard, but can also frame his housemate Jacob Safulu, known as Dreamer. Petrillo has personal reasons for wanting to frame Dreamer as he has plans to make a move on Dreamer’s teenage girlfriend (and Wizard’s sister), Angela. Soon Dreamer and Wizard are in prison and the wheels of justice are turning.
Through the rest of the book, and through a range of other characters, including the prosecutor and Dreamer’s defence attorney (who used to work as a prosecutor), Gattis exposes the US justice system. Dreamer, who has never been to prison before, relies on Wizard to protect him and quickly adjusts to the attitude needed to survive life on the inside. Meanwhile on the outside, their friend Jeovanni Matta, known as Little, who has kept himself out of gang business finds himself coming into his own as a gang leader as he tries to find out who the police informant is and how the gun ended up in Dreamer’s bedroom.
The System is forensic in its exploration of the issues but what it also shows is no matter how impartial everyone pretends to be, the whole show is running on personal agendas. Petrillo is using the situation to date Angela, prosecutor Kristina Mirkovich used to be married to one of the arresting police officers and desperately wants to win her first big gang case, Dreamer’s defence attorney Nick Park left the DA’s office after Mirkovich told him she would not date a colleague but then would not date him anyway so wants to take her down. Meanwhile, in prison, Wizard is cementing his reputation and Dreamer is learning to fight to survive:
This jail shit is a hundred times crazier than the streets. It’s like all the rough blocks in every bad hood got all the bad dudes shook out of them and they landed here. All squashed together in tiny spaces. That shit is never going to go good. It’s how I’ve been learning about people. Seeing them. How they really are when you bust the human part of them down to nothing and they’re just about doing whatever to survive…
Gattis effectively uses his chorus of voices to move the reader through the justice system. From crime, to arrest, to arraignment, to the trial and beyond. Casting a keen eye on the mechanics of the system without ever losing sight of the humans who sit behind it. And it is that human element which ensures that nothing is black and white, and that no matter how impartial the system purports to be, there will always be cracks. And while the action is set almost thirty years ago, there is no reason to think the situation has improved in any way since then. If anything it is likely to be worse.
Was this review helpful?
I’ve had two good goes at The System now, but I’m afraid I can’t get on with it and have bailed out.

I’m not sure quite why I’m struggling with it; I liked All Involved and this is in a similar style with closely related content and its examination of the US justice machine is important and timely.  This time, though, I found the multiple points of view too fragmented to form a coherent narrative and some of the characters, like the bigoted, self-regarding, manipulative parole officer, rather overblown and verging on caricature.

Others have enjoyed this and I can see that it has merit, but it just didn’t engage me in the end and I won’t be going back to it.

(My thanks to Picador for an ARC via NetGalley.)
Was this review helpful?
My thanks to NetGalley and publisher Pan Macmillan for the ARC.

Set in the Los Angeles suburbs 1993, post the race riots, this story is told from the points of view of all the main characters involved - so you really get to know what they're thinking and feeling about their individual circumstances, whether they are part of the criminal justice system, or a gang member being processed by it.  The characters are all interesting and their stories invite you in to share their present lives.  
A female Hispanic drug dealer called Scrappy is shot in her front yard by a rival gang headed (outside of prison) by Wizard - the order came from within the prison population.  Unbeknown to the shooters at the time there was a witness in the form of Augie Clarke, a drug addict.  
Parole Agent Phillip Petrillo is a nasty piece of work and, by foul means, manipulates evidence to frame both Wizard and his friend Jacob in order to clear the way for him to court Angela, Wizard's cousin.  
The narrative takes the reader through all the Court documents which have to be submitted for their arrest and processing through the system - I found this really boring and skimmed my way through it.  
Meanwhile, Jeovanni Matta, aka Little, an intelligent young man associated with Wizard and Jacob, but not involved in the gang culture, is tasked with finding out what really happened to the gun that was used.

The prison processes, together with the characters' own points of view, followed by the Court Case, I did find engrossing, alongside the transformation of Jeovanni working between gangs and the system to dig out the truth.

I did find the constant Spanish gangster-speak rather off-putting at the beginning but you do get used to it as the story unfolds.
Was this review helpful?
The narrative structure of this book gives it an original perspective that is fresh and engrossing, pulling together different pieces of the jigsaw in a way that questions your assumptions. 
I found it a little slow to get going and so I didn't feel the 'hook' but it was an interesting read nonetheless - well written and with an authentic feel.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read this review copy.
Was this review helpful?
I absolutely love this book! Almost, but not quite, as much as I loved Ryan Gattis' 2015 novel, All Involved. Gritty, shocking, moving and utterly gripping, I will be recommending this one to my library patrons for a long time!
Was this review helpful?
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The System is the latest novel from Ryan Gattis, and follows a number of characters who are linked in various ways to the commission of a crime. The book follows from every stage of the American criminal justice system, from a drug dealer being shot, to the arrest of the alleged culprits, following their journey through the system, up to the outcome of their trials. The book is set in Los Angeles in the aftermath of the Rodney King riots, which adds layers of additional tension to the story, which includes characters from law enforcement, lawyers, parole officers and the people who fall subject to the criminal justice system, regardless of whether or not they are actually guilty. 

I found this book a bit slow to start, but I’m so glad I stuck with it! I really enjoyed it, and I thought it was interesting to experience all the facets of the criminal justice system from all different people who would work in it and be subject to its actions and outcomes. The main focus are characters called Wizard, who is a gang member and the person who shot the drug dealer called Scrappy, and his friend Dreamer, who is not a fully affiliated gang member, but is accused of being present when Scrappy is shot. I thought this was a great frame for this story, as you know that Wizard is definitely guilty and deserves to be put on trial for the shooting, but equally, you know that Dreamer is definitely innocent, so it demonstrates how difficult it may be to avoid the consequences of a situation like this, that you may be involved in through no fault of your own. Planted evidence, and a conspiracy of accusation can result in innocent parties being drawn into the system, and once in the process, you may have to participate in actions that keep you there, in order to survive.

I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone. The character are believable and interesting, and the circumstances are realistic. It’s well written and well paced, and it’s great to be able to follow a large number of different characters and see how their motivations can influence and change the potential outcomes.
Was this review helpful?
A thought-provoking and frightening lens on LA gang culture, The System sees Ryan Gattis return to the subject matter of his excellent novel All Involved.  Whilst All Involved took place during the mayhem* of the LA riots, The System occurs several months after the riots.

The focus is on the gang-ordered shooting of a drug dealer. Following this incident, we are walked through the 'system' - who takes the rap, how the authorities try to get the outcome they want, how personal ambition or lust can affect the lives of those involved. The book is obviously researched really well and it's fascinating but depressing to see just how broken this system is.

So why only 3 stars? Well, I found the book to be interesting but it never quite gripped me in the way All Involved did. I think I needed a little more on some of the key characters like Dreamer, Wizard and Dulce - I never quite felt like I knew them well enough or was fully invested in their stories. I think in part, the genre just isn't my favourite and I know there will be a lot of readers who will love this one - it's well written, gritty and perfect for those who like urban crime, police procedural or The Wire.

*As an aside, I learned from this book that 'Mayhem' is actually a crime in the US.  :-)
Was this review helpful?
Tragic, inspiring, humbling and powerful.  You simply have to read this.

If you are interested in detective stories, the human condition, social situations, psychology, the justice system, equality, delinquency, human interaction, justice, courtroom drama, or just enjoy a book where you really want to know what happens, you simply have to read this life changing book.   You might have to work at first, but in my view it is definitely worth it.

I was initially worried when I first began it, as the book is set as a series of first hand accounts from the main characters, and so based on individual perspectives, with a number of viewpoints.  I normally do not like that because it can end up with superficial characters.  I was wrong.  The characters became very real to me.  The main characters for the most part showed a depth and strength of character that I found both inspiring and humbling.   I found the first few chapters were a bit hard going because of the narrative structure though, but I gradually became hooked.

The individual narratives painted a very clear picture of what is, and must be, a very real state of existence for many people.  The story was gripping, and the characters and events were painted beautifully through their thoughts and feelings.  Nobody in the book was without flaws, and their characters and motivations were plainly, sometimes painfully, displayed.

The book contains a solid understanding of the system and how people can be absorbed into it, and changed by it, and is a life changing read.
Was this review helpful?
The System is set in the Los Angeles in the same area as Ryan Gattis' novel about the L.A, riots, "All Involved", and if you enjoyed that you'll love this book.  While there are allusions to events in "All Involved" and a handful of characters are mentioned this isn't a sequel . The story  starts in December 1993 when  drug dealer Scrappy is shot and left for dead in a gang hit. A junkie who was in the act of buying from Scrappy sees the whole thing and after giving her first aid takes advantage of the situation and helps himself to the drugd she's carrying and the gun the would-be assassins have left at the scene. 
Under pressure from his parole officer he identifies the killers,one he's seen and one he's been told to identify .
This is a great story,the small cast of main characters often let each other down then redeem themselves, good people have to become bad and bad people often show signs of inner nobility. Gattis draws his characters skilfully and captures their thoughts and feelings .
As the title suggests the book isn't just about a murder,it's about the entire American Criminal Justice system as it follows events through various character's eyes from the actual murder,through arrests,jail,trial and probation. Also shown is the grip the street gangs have on their members with them often committing serious crimes on the say so of  .higher echelon gangsters who they may not even have met. 
The book is involving,often ,moving and totally engrossing. If you've not read Ryan Gattis before you'll love this if you're a fan of Richard Price or Don Winslow. 
One thing that really hit home with me Gattis detailing the hardcore criminal activity of his characters then dropping in something in to remind the reader that these are basically children he's talking about,already brutalised and fighting for survival in a Dog eat Dog world.
My book of the year so far.
Was this review helpful?
This 90s LA crime novel is a multi-voiced and layered read seeping with authenticity & an addictive plot! 
The effects of a shooting on the streets play out in the jail & courthouse to a startling degree.
Gattis' knocks it out of the park following on from his amazing books All Involved & Safe.
Was this review helpful?
After two outstanding novels in All Involved and Safe, Ryan Gattis has done it again. It's set eight months after the LA riots that were the background for All Involved, and has a few tangential connections with that book. It starts with one gang related crime, an attempted murder, and follows that through, covering the police investigation, the legal teams prosecuting and defending the case, the reactions of gang members on both sides of the incident, and life in the Californian prison system. It's a bigger and wider canvas than the previous books, but Gattis keeps it tight and focused. Once agin, it's an incredibly propulsive book that moves like a rocket but still leaves room for empathy. He does a great job of putting you inside the heads of characters from successful lawyers to gang kids stuck in an inescapable vicious circle. He does a fantastic job of building tension - in the courtroom sequence towards the end, I was so engaged with, and fearful of, the outcome that I had to put the book down and go for a walk (just around the house, obviously) because there was just too goddam much on the line and I couldn't take it. 

I will be first in line for Gattis' next book. If I had one wish, I'd go for it to have a contemporary setting - I'd love to see his take on how mobile phones and social media etc have affected the gang lives he describes so well. In meantime, go read this one.
Was this review helpful?
This is a fantastic book. It is without question one of the most tense dramas I've ever read and it NEEDS to be a film or series.  

I really enjoyed the links to All Involved, some are really obvious while others are more subtle (and I'm sure I missed loads).  As with All Involved the people are portrayed as real people and not just mindless thugs.  There are reasons for everything that happens,  We, the readers might not understand or agree with the reasons but that doesn't invalidate them.  

I love how this book takes me to a world and a life style that is a million miles from rural Scotland yet makes me feel so....there. 

The characters, and I mean every single one of them, are wonderfully written and the complex, ever changing relationships between them is what pulls you in and keeps you engrossed. 

This book is an emotional roller coaster - I felt real anger towards Petrillo and how the corruption of one man can wreck so many lives.  I felt so much pity and fear for Dreamer.  I don;t know how I feel about Wizard - it changes on an almost hourly basis....

If you want a book that will make you think and feel  then you will not be disappointed by The System.
Was this review helpful?
If you loved Gattis' 'All Involved' then this is a must-read as I'd say it's even better, perhaps because it has a cleaner narrative arc and more story-telling momentum. The format is essentially similar: a revolving series of 1st person narratives that offer up a 360-degree view of a gang crime and its aftermath in LA.

Gattis' compassion and understanding is well to the fore here as well as, I would assume, deep research. The characters in the gangs are youthful in the extreme, mere teenagers, brought up in harsh circumstances, and it's not hard to see how gangs might become a quasi-family. All the same, this also highlights choice and options: the fates of Dreamer and Wizard could have been the same but are not. 

My one small qualm is about the character of Petrillo, a parole officer - without giving away spoilers, I can see what role he plays in the overarching plot but it seems to be tied in in a rather soap-y way. That said, I enjoyed reading his narratives, condemning himself through his own words as a disaffected white man blaming 'feminazis', Latinos, African-Americans, Eastern Europeans and pretty much everyone else for his woes (despite, ironically, his own Italian immigrant heritage). 

The structure keeps this pacy with a quick-switch feel similar to TV series. Emotive, compelling, immersive and insightful - a title to watch this summer.
Was this review helpful?