On July 16th 2011, all Hell suddenly breaks across the five boroughs. In Queens, a gang leader finds himself on the run from the cops. In Brooklyn, a young woman narrowly escapes being taken down in a drug bust. In the South Bronx, a young man flees the scene of a dogfight after engaging in a shootout. In Staten Island, a successful hustler narrowly escapes being murdered in his own home, only to find himself in a much worse predicament soon after. In the Bronx, a hooker breaks free of her brutal pimp while carrying his personal fortune in tow. Finally, things go horribly wrong when an armed robber in Yonkers turns what was supposed to be a routine job into a bloodbath.
All five of these fugitives cross paths on a bus bound for Atlanta. Shortly after making each other’s acquaintance, they enter into a new business venture together. They plan to take Atlanta by storm, but their every step is shadowed by their violent pasts. Can they evade the cops long enough to find a better tomorrow?
Below the Radar is the second novel from “true fiction” author Frank C. Matthews. Like its predecessor, the wildly popular Respect the Jux, it purports to be based on a true story. Also like Respect the Jux, it deals with a large cast of characters and switches locales halfway through. It mostly stays true to the tropes of “urban fiction,” while managing to take a few unexpected turns along the way.
As has been documented, Matthews was largely inspired by the works of Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines. The influence of the latter is evident throughout Below the Radar, as Matthews exhibits Goines penchant for juggling multiple locations and characters with ease. The first few chapters of the book play almost like the third act of a Star Wars film in how they rapidly transition from one tense situation to the next. Matthews does a good job of quickly establishing his settings and characters before jumping headlong into the action.
Matthews is very descriptive when it comes to Below the Radar’s two main ingredients: Sex and violence. That tendency is to the books benefit. Such elements are required in a story like this, and in great abundance. The sexual encounters throughout the book play more like erotic fiction than something you’d expect from a crime novel. This too, is a trope Matthews has borrowed from Goines. The shootouts are perhaps even more detailed, to the point that they bear direct comparison to the kinds of action sequences traditionally found in a Peckinpah film. Things seem to take place in slow motion as Matthews documents the exact path taken by each and every bullet fired.
Also evident throughout Below the Radar is Matthews’s considerable pop culture IQ. The different plot lines and characters converge in a similar manner to the Tony Scott/Quentin Tarantino collaboration True Romance. Surprisingly, the plot also bears vague similarities to the Shaw Brothers cult classic The Five Venoms. At one point, a character even references the film directly.
Unfortunately, Below the Radar does suffer from a few substantial flaws. Grammatical errors pop up early, and increase exponentially as the story presses on. Also, use of a bookmark is absolutely essential as the pages are not numbered. Had these problems been rectified before the books release, it would’ve made for a more polished and professional presentation.
Though Below the Radar treads very familiar ground, it makes for a compelling read nonetheless. It’s far from flawless, but it’s also a hard book to put down. Like many pulp novels, it offers no more than what its coverart and plot description promise. It moves fast and takes no prisoners. Matthews body of work is only two books deep, but even at this early stage it seems as though he is keeping pace with his mentors.