From 1958, WEB OF THE CITY is the first novel Harlan Ellison ever had published, written mostly at night while he was in basic training. And he sometimes wishes he pulled an Ernest Hemingway of throwing it into the ocean so no one could read it. Too bad, because Hard Case Crime has reissued it.
The story itself is somewhat standard juvenile-delinquent fodder. There is nothing mind- blowing or game-changing to the story, which focuses on Rusty Santoro, the former president of the Cougars. At the start of the book, we find out he is trying to quit, but the gang won’t hear it. The story moves along with the requisite showdown between the gang and Rusty, until he finally proves himself in one last stand, after which the gang leaves him alone.
But that’s only half the story. The rest deals with Rusty’s sister, who is raped and murdered right outside the gang’s clubhouse. Rusty makes it his mission to track down the culprit, while also coming to terms with his former gang life. WEB is filled with gang slang, a rumble and the requisite cops breaking things up.
The climax shows what talent was about to really shine, once Ellison started work in the science-fiction genre. Supposedly, he went undercover to do research on real-life gangs in Brooklyn, but it’s pointed out clearly on the first page that Ellison and Rusty are not the same person.
Hard Case’s version is the definitive volume for WEB OF THE CITY, since it includes three short stories that tie into this world. —Bruce Grossman