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WALKING HOMELESS by Al Lamanda: Book Review

A man on the ground.  A policeman  stops to see if he needs help.  The man rises and two other men come out of the shadows.  One smashes the cop on the head, another grabs his wallet and his gun, and the third gets ready to give the order to shoot.  Then another man appears.  Seemingly without effort, he disarms the man with the gun and kills all three of the attackers.

Walking Homeless by Al Lamanda takes us on a trip through the Cardboard Box City of Lower Manhattan, the place where the homeless, alcoholic, and drug-addicted men and women went to live after they were removed from the newly upscale Times Square.  Among these is John Tibbets.  All he knows about himself is his name.  He’s been on the streets for about three years, brought by a doctor to a Catholic shelter where he sleeps, when he’s able to.  He spends his days stopping cars and washing their windshields for pocket money; he spends his nights having violent dreams that always end with people dying.  But why is John having these dreams?  He has no idea.

After saving the policeman’s life, John becomes a media sensation.  Newspapers, magazines, and national television stations all want a piece of him.  And so do several mysterious men.  They want him alive but will take him dead if that’s their only option.

The reader knows there’s something pretty scary about John.  The way he handles himself, his presence of mind under extreme pressure–this is not your average homeless man for sure.  Could he have been a military man before his amnesia set in?  A former policeman?  But his skills seem too extreme for that.  And what about his nightmares?  They are becoming more detailed, less fuzzy, although John is still a long way away from figuring out who he is and why men are after him now.  As we follow his dreams, we know that this is no innocent, that there are things in John’s background that are too painful to face.  But that still doesn’t explain why he’s being followed.

This is an intimate look into the dark side of Manhattan or, for that matter, any city that simply wants to forget its homeless, its mentally ill, its most vulnerable. Out of sight, out of mind seems to be the motto of those in charge.  This novel has a strong sociological bent, even with all its violence.  And there’s plenty of that.

Walking Homeless is a stunning book.  Besides being an excellent thriller, its underlying message makes you think about how we, as a society, view the neediest, least capable among us.  It’s not a pretty picture.

Apparently Al Lamanda doesn’t have a web page.  Aside from the fact that the back jacket says he comes from Maine, I couldn’t find out anything about him.  There’s virtually nothing on the Internet.   Could it be that that’s not his real name?  Another mystery to be solved.