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Reaper : The story of a Gang Leader by Gary Hoenig

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Indianapolis : Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1975. First edition. Hardcover. 168 pages ; 21 cm. $6.95 dust jacket. Very good copy; no underlines or markings within the pages. Satisfaction guaranteed!

This is the story of Georgie, a gang leader in the South Bronx section of New York. In a given year there are more murders in the South Bronx than in many entire countries. Life, if not cheap, is at least highly expendable. To become a gang leader in the South Bronx you have to pay your dues. If you survive, you become a kind of folk hero among your peers. If you don't survive, you'll be no different from many others, and there will soon be someone to take your place.

Georgie began paying his dues as he wandered the streets alone or with the older boys during the days when grade school was too much to bear. Perhaps he didn't know he was paying dues then, and perhaps he thought that fighting to prove his manhood at eleven was just a way of life. But later, as he sat with his woman, shooting up, seeing the despair in her eyes fade to empty dreams as the dope went into her veins, wondering, as he lay next to her pregnant form, how they would ever make it, he knew that he was paying dues.

This is the true story of Georgie and of one gang, the Reapers. It could easily have been the story of the Savage Skulls or the Black Spades or one of the other gangs that operate in, and sometimes terrorize, New York. The skulls described were really broken, the bodies in alleyways really dead, the organized crime connections really deadly. Gary Hoenig, who has lived in New York City all of his life, spent over a year learning about the Reapers and, in particular, about Georgie.

This book is about Georgie's climb to the top of the hierarchy of the gang. Later, when the killings and the fights had become too much, when the wearing of gang colors had somehow lost the meaning Georgie had struggled to dignify over the years, REAPER tells the story of what happens to a youth who is weary of life at a time when most young people are just beginning the most important part of theirs.