In the proud tradition of classic L.A. noir, racism and violence work like a centrifugal force in Pete Dexter's searing page-turner Train, operating in tandem to draw Dexter's characters into a powerful swirl of grim, interconnected fates. Quietly navigating both ends of a divided city in 1953, Lionel "Train" Walk, a self-effacing yet keenly intelligent black teenager from the Darktown (a.k.a. Watts) projects, travels by bus every day to caddy at the exclusive Brookline Country Club. Unlike many of the other "totes," Train keeps his head down and strives for invisibility, neither involving himself in petty criminality nor bowing before the rich white golfers who toss casual epithets in his direction. Yet it's a sad reality of Dexter's novel that no one, especially the disempowered, is immune to the shock waves of racially motivated violence. Written in tough, punchy, economical language, Train begins with the eerie calm of offbeat observation before lowering the boom. Bucking the conventions of crime fiction, Dexter waits for more than 50 pages before getting to the main event, a harrowing yacht hijacking that results in the death of the boat's captain, the owner, and the hijackers themselves. And that's not the half of it. After being raped and mutilated by the hijackers, lone survivor Norah Still escapes into the arms of police sergeant Miller Packard, who shoots the perpetrators–two black men–in cold blood, then plants weapons on them. In the following days, Norah is drawn to Packard, a tender yet mysteriously detached WWII veteran who infiltrates her Beverly Hills world, but remains a dangerous enigma. Meanwhile, when word gets out that the hijackers were Brookline caddies, the country club cleans house, leaving Train to scrape for work at a torn-up integrated housing project and golf course called Paradise Developments. Blind coincidence brings the three principals together when Packard, remembering Train's prodigious golfing talents from a Brookline encounter, recruits him for a tour of lucrative high-stakes matches against other golf hustlers from around the country. But in Dexter's world, what seems like an act of charity turns out to have deep consequences, as Train's golden opportunity to capitalize on his gifts becomes a sinister sort of exploitation. Though Train occupies the book's moral center, Dexter cannily fronts Packard as his ostensible protagonist, allowing readers to follow his slippery path. Witty, calming, and occasionally heroic, Packard has a way of drawing decent-hearted people into his orbit, but he's really a chaos engine, directly or indirectly responsible for most of the terrible things that happen in the book. In Train, as in all great noirs, appearances can be deceiving, and Packard's quiet, seemingly benevolent presence is as insidious as the devil himself.