Cover Image: The System

The System

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Member Reviews


As we close out 2021 and head into another abyss, for some reason it's beginning to feel as though I'm getting my reading legs back. To that end, I immediately jumped into my backlist to hit a book from Ryan Gattis I have been really excited about, and a couple of raves from the book tribe, one of which panned out greatly, the other simply panned.

The System, Ryan Gattis

Gattis's All Involved was so fantastic I was anxiously awaiting his next work. Which, sadly, had been languishing while I get my brain back, but wow was the wait worth it. Written in the same real-time format as All Involved, The System unsurprisingly delves into our justice and penal systems. When a gang hit goes down, an addict witness, the dropped weapon, a predatory parole officer and the young man who lives with the beautiful woman the officer covets all combine to allow Gattis to display the power (and misuse thereof) and grind of the system. Gattis utilizes his characters to pointedly show what happens when a power vacuum occurs on the outside while the guilty and innocent sit inside, and the system the incarcerated are forced to quickly learn in order to survive and/or thrive.  Tense and fast-paced, Gattis has another winner that educates without preaching.
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Thank you Netgalley, Ryan Gattis and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the Advanced reader copy.
I received an ARC from Netgalley but listened to the published Audiobook

 On December 6, 1993, a drug dealer called Scrappy is shot and left for dead on the lawn outside her mother’s house in South Central Los Angeles. Augie, a heroin addict, witnesses the whole thing—before he steals all the drugs on her person, as well as the gun that was dropped at the scene. When Augie gets busted, he names local gang members Wizard and Dreamer the shooters.

But only one of them is guilty. 

CAWPILE Rating: 7.15 => 3.5 stars

Characters:  6.5
Atmosphere:  6.0
Writing:  7.0
Plot:  8.0
Intrigue:  7.0
Logic:  8.0
Enjoyment:  7.5

 I thought the story and the writing were quite straightforward. It gave a compelling story and a good view of the legal system of America. It followed the complete process from the shooting to the arrest, jail time, and the trial. 
The characters in the story were fleshed out in combination with the story but we did not see a lot of background of the characters. They are not all likable characters, but they are realistic (I actually hated the police officer)

I enjoyed listening to this story and recommend if you like to read about criminal cases.
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4.5 STARS  This is a pretty good read.  A hard look at gangs, policing and the legal system. The story line is compelling and the characters are certainly believable and interesting. Certainly not likeable for the most part but most definitely accurate with regards to the rolls that they are assigned. I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading Ryan Gattis's next book. 
On the sixth of December 1993, a drug dealer called Scrappy is shot and left for dead on her mother’s lawn in South Central Los Angeles. A heroin addict witnesses the shooting, and seizes the moment to steal Scrappy’s drugs, as well as the handgun that was dropped at the scene. When he’s busted, he names local gang members Wizard and Dreamer as the shooters.
There’s only one problem: one of them is guilty; the other, innocent
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Synopsis/blurb ...
On December 6, 1993, a drug dealer called Scrappy is shot and left for dead on the lawn outside her mother’s house in South Central Los Angeles. Augie, a heroin addict, witnesses the whole thing—before he steals all the drugs on her person, as well as the gun that was dropped at the scene. When Augie gets busted, he names local gang members Wizard and Dreamer the shooters.

But only one of them is guilty.

A search of Wizard and Dreamer’s premises uncovers the gun that was used in the shooting, and a warrant goes out for their arrest. They know it’s a frame-up, but the word from the gang is to keep their mouths shut and face the charges.

With these two off the streets and headed for jail, Dreamer’s friend Little, the unlikeliest of new gang members, is given one job: discover how the gun got moved, and why.

Played out in the streets, precincts, jails, and courtrooms of Los Angeles, Ryan Gattis's The System is the harrowing story of a crime—from moments before the bullets are fired, to the verdict and its violent aftershocks—told through the vivid chorus of those involved, guilty, the innocent, and everyone in between.
My take...

Short review - absolutely bloody brilliant. Pitch perfect.

Story, pace, characters, outcome, setting - place and time frame of the book, writing, presentation - alternating chapters from the perspectives of the main players - the accused, the witnesses, the defence, the prosecution. I do like books where the perspective shifts from one character to another.

An intriguing look at the justice system from the commission of a crime all the way through to the verdict and the aftermath. I was scared as the pronouncements came down and even afterwards I feared jeopardy towards one of the main characters. 

An intriguing look at gang life as well .... the codes, the rules, the boundaries, loyalties, hierarchy and expectations of members behaviour - even at the risk of great personal cost.

Absolutely loved it.                                                 

5 from 5

My first outing with Ryan Gattis, though definitely not my last. Some of his earlier books sit on the pile.

Read - March, 2021
Published - 2020
Page count - 411
Source - review copy from Net Galley
Format - Kindle
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This is an excellent legal thriller. I requested the ARC from Netgalley based on the blurb and wasn't sure what to expect.
This book definitely had everything going for it and the story doesn't disappoint.

The story arc and plot is a compelling one and the author has captured the criminal system so well giving insight to the world. It's a novel which focuses on crime and describes the system and those working within the system as well. It's gritty, it's real. The incredibly real characters make you feel that you are one of them.

I don't want to reveal more but suffice it to say that this is a really good, eye opening, crime thriller. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for sending a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Published by Farrar, Straus and Girou/MCD on December 8, 2020

The System is a fascinating novel about the criminal justice system as seen from the perspectives of multiple characters. It is one of the most perceptive takes on crime and criminal justice I’ve encountered in some time.

There are actually two systems at work in the novel. Running parallel to the government’s system of law and order is one that imposes a different sort of order. It determines how prisoners run prisons and how gangs run streets.

Key characters experience events that change them in ways that are beneficial or unsettling or both. Some of the characters have epiphanies that the reader hopes will guide the rest of their lives. Those characters give the novel its heart. To their misfortune, other characters fail to take advantage of opportunities to change. Those characters contribute to the novel’s sense of realism.

The story begins with Angela Alvarez breaking up with her boyfriend, Jacob Safulu, a/k/a Dreamer. Angela is beautiful and smart. She lives in a house she inherited from her aunt in a low-income neighborhood. She lives with Dreamer and her cousin, Omar Tavira, a/k/a Wizard. She works as a barista and takes nursing classes because she wants to make a better life for herself. Dreamer and Wizard are good friends but Dreamer isn’t part of Wizard’s gang life. Dreamer doesn’t know what he wants to be. Angela thinks he’s drifting in order to avoid responsibility. That’s not what she wants in a boyfriend.

As Angela is delivering the bad news to Dreamer, Wizard is shooting a woman named Scrappy. The hit has been ordered by Wizard’s gang leader to send a message about Scrappy’s failure to respect territorial boundaries. An addict named Augie Clark was trying to score from Scrappy shortly before the shooting. He sees it go down and saves her life after the shooter flees. He also steals all the heroin she’s hidden on her person and the gun that the shooter dropped at the scene.

Augie’s parole agent, Phillip Petrillo, finds the drugs and the gun during a search of Augie’s room. Petrillo is also Wizard’s parole agent. When Augie admits that he stole the gun after watching Wizard shoot Scrappy, Petrillo convinces him to say that Wizard’s accomplice, who Augie didn’t recognize, was Dreamer, who Augie doesn’t know.

Petrillo wants to set up Dreamer because he knows Dreamer is dating Angela and, having met Angela a few times during home visits with Wizard, he knows Angela is hot. To get Dreamer out of the way, Petrillo searches Angela’s house and plants the gun in the room where Dreamer sleeps. Petrillo has used his position to further inappropriate relationships with many other young women but he sees Angela as his biggest conquest.

The plot moves forward through the arrest and trial of Wizard and Dreamer. Chapters narrate the story from each of their perspectives as well as those of Angela, a defense lawyer, a prosecutor, and a couple of cops. I love the variety of distinct voices in which the story is told. Each voice is articulate in its own way, reminding the reader that intelligence and formal education are two different things.

Angela is a sympathetic character. Through Petrillo, she gets a taste of what opportunities the world outside her neighborhood might hold. When she realizes what a cad Petrillo is, she struggles with the fact that she felt attracted to him and begins to realize that the attraction was not to Petrillo but to what he might represent.

Dreamer also changes, moving in different directions as the novel unfolds. His adaptation to prison life might in some ways be unhealthy, despite the imperative to do what it takes to survive. At the same time, he begins to realize that his loyalty to Wizard hasn’t been repaid and that the code of the street isn’t as important as the ideas he encounters after diving into the prison library. The fact that Dreamer and Angela both take advantage of the opportunity to confront life in a more positive way suggests that all of us might be able to do the same.

The novel encourages the reader to empathize with the kind of people who are often condemned by society. It similarly encourages the reader to understand that people who perform jobs that purportedly benefit society are sometimes interested only in benefiting themselves. Ultimately, the novel reminds us that life is more complex than people with limited experience imagine it to be.

The plot might be faulted for delivering such a satisfying ending. Trial scenes are compelling but not always accurate in detailing how the judicial system works. Those are insignificant quibbles about a story that kept me spellbound.

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Ryan Gattis wrote a sprawling and intense epic of gang violence surrounding the events of the L.A. riots in ALL INVOLVED, but has outdone himself with THE SYSTEM. In meticulous detail, he tells the story of a crime and its ripple effects from multiple perspectives--gangsters, cops (some honest, some wildly corrupt, all compromised by belief if not wrongdoing), ambitious lawyers and folks in the straight world caught up in the whirlwind. As in ALL INVOLVED, we see everyone existing in realistic shades of gray and in most cases thoroughly trapped by circumstances far beyond their control. It's not a hopeless book, but it doesn't mince words either, and while set in the early 90s, few of its details feel dated. In fact, it's not only relevant to our current moment but necessary.
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The toughest part about reviewing novels like The System by Ryan Gattis, is doing justice to the writing and story. This novel really is more than just a “crime” or “thriller” novel. It’s a novel of destruction, growth, and redemption.

The System is a gritty, urban crime novel focusing on those encountering “the system,” and of those practicing within “the system.” As Gattis describes, the machination of “the system” consists of the three prongs of government when it comes to law and law-breaking: law enforcement, the courts, and corrections. The main focus of the novel is on Jacob “Dreamer” Safula and Omar “Wizard” Tavira. Wizard is a hardcore mover and shaker in the gang world, while Dreamer is more or less tied to the gang subculture because of his friendship with Wizard and geographic upbringing.

The novel opens with Angela Alvarez, the girlfriend of Dreamer, telling him their relationship has reached the end of the road and it’s time for him to move out of her home. Wizard, the cousin to Angela Alvarez, and best friend of Dreamer, also lives with Alvarez and while the couple is ending their relationship, some distance away, Wizard happens to be shooting a female drug dealer nicknamed Scrappy.

Soon, because of malevolent forces beyond the control of Dreamer and regardless of being innocent of the shooting, both he and Wizard are arrested and charged with the crime and find themselves facing possible life prison terms.
In alternating chronological chapters told from the perspective of different characters within the novel, the story continues to unfold as Dreamer and Wizard move through the bowels of the “the system.” The novel further details the toll this process exacts from all those involved when pulled into its crushing vortex, where procedure is more important than truth and where results often end with negative, unrelenting repercussions, often contrary to guilt or innocence.

Those fond of writers like George Pelecanos, Richard Price, and Dennis Lehane should enjoy the writing of Ryan Gattis and it will be quite a surprise if The System does not start appearing on “best of” end of the year lists in crime fiction. Readers are also encouraged to read Gattis’ prior novel All Involved. 

NetGalley provided an advanced reader copy of this novel with the promise of an unbiased and fair review.  This review was originally published at
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This was a great fictional account of the prison system.  Despite it being fictional, it was based on the very real issues in the system.  I like how the author wrote this from all sides of the crime, the one that is accused of having committed the crime, the witness, the prosecutor and the defense attorney.  The author covered a lot of different perspectives, but didn't lose anything from the flow of the story.
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I loved this book!! It's my first book by Ryan Gattis that I've read and it won't be the last. This book takes you into the gritty, dirty side of Los Angeles's criminal justice system. You have the view points of the victim, the accused, and anybody involved in both sides. I highly recommend this book!!
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Ryan Gattis is a great author who really embeds you in his stories. Different points of view are explored and exploited creating a tapestry of meaning and culture. For me, this book just had a little too much going on to be great. It is fascinating, but forced.
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This book kept me enthralled from start to finish. I enjoyed the multiple points of view in the book as well as the complete detail of the criminal justice system that individuals have to experience. Excellent read, well written and you feel like you are the one behind bars when the prison system is being described.. Well done Ryan, cannot wait for the next one!
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#TheSystem by Ryan Gattis is a marvelous book, period. The story, which deals with the criminal justice system in Los Angeles County in December 1993 & January 1994 is told in first person by a variety of narrators, which adds to its realism. Revolving around the shooting of a female drug dealer, this fine tale moves at a breakneck pace as this very realistic plot unfolds. Breathtakingly brutal, the flawed characters take us on a tour of a very unglamorous side of life best experienced from a far. Not since The Wire has a story captured the grittiness of street life in such a gut wrenching manner. Mr. Gattis’ previous books showed he has the chops, but #The System puts him up there with great street novelists such as Richard Price and George Pelacanos ( both of whom did write for The Wire ). I can’t wait for the screen adaption. It would be a whole different crime if there isn’t one.
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"This is the story of one...crime-those accused of it, those who witnessed it, the lawyers who prosecuted and defended it, and those left behind on the outside".

"...the system is the system. It always gobbles up the ones with the lowest distance to fall".

It started with Augustine Clark aka Augie on December 6, 1993 in South Central Los Angeles. "These earthquakes I got are major...I need something bad. So bad I'll do whatever has to be done for it". He starts tugging on the wooden shutters of Scrappy's mother's house. Drug dealer Scrappy confronts done. Augie starts to slink away...but...Scrappy has been "green lighted from above" and shots ring out. Augie returns, applies first aid, and tells Scrappy's mother to send for an ambulance. Meanwhile, Augie pockets ten baggies stored on Scrappy's person and a weapon dropped at the scene. "I got the gun in my hand. What can I sell it for if I clean it up?" Not so fast, Augie!

Parole Agent Phillip Petrillo checks Augie's Parole Field File before making a home visit. Petrillo has reason to believe Augie is "using" and searches the premises finding a gun hidden behind a baseboard. To avoid additional jail time, Augie suggests, "...what if I knew something?" Petrillo retorts, "Get on the right side of the system, Augie. I'm your one shot". Augie fingers two suspects, Wizard as shooter, and an second unknown assailant. Petrillo presses. "If Wizard was one, who was the other guy at the shooting? Dreamer. Dreamer...C'mon, Augie, Say it...whether he was there or not last night doesn't matter""....there could even be something for me to take out of it...", thinks Petrillo.

Here is how it goes down. Wizard and Dreamer are arrested and charged with "willful, deliberate and murder Lucrecia Lucero [aka Scrappy from] ...a rival street gang. Who are these suspects? Omar Tavira aka Wizard, twenty two years old, traveled with a write words...perhaps "Mister Gangster-Trying-To-Be a Rapper". "Loyalty is the best part of anybody". "When we wind up at County Jail, it's a whole new education". Jacob Safulu aka Dreamer is seventeen years old. He has "no tattoos...hasn't even been arrested yet". "I don't want to go to jail for something I didn't do...some shit Wizard did and it's on me". It would seem that Dreamer and Wizard's fates are intertwined. The agendas of the prosecution and defense will soon be revealed.

"The System" by Ryan Gattis is a legal thriller that masterfully voices a crime using the narratives of Wizard and Dreamer, Scrappy, parole officers, detectives, and lawyers for the defense and prosecution. There are those who will consider it to be a badge of honor to become gangsters. Others, entrenched in the system, can't find a way out. "I've got to kill my feelings...I know I can't show weakness...Survive. No matter what"...Nothing I could say gets me out of here. It only gets me deeper". The reader views a snapshot of the criminal justice system. We witness a police procedural that examines an urban crime. Will justice be served? Highly recommended.

Thank you Farrar, Straus and Giroux/MCD and Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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This book was good. Like really, really good. The character development was on point. I cared about all of the characters and yet couldn’t even tell you what they looked like. But I felt like I knew them and that was way more important than any description of their physicality. The story got me from the very beginning and I couldn’t wait to find out the verdict. So many twists and turns and an inside look into the prison system and gang culture. Just super well done. Definitely want to read more by this author.
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Having some knowledge of the criminal justice system myself, I find no fault with Ryan Gattis' depiction of it in The System. As he did in All Involved, Gattis brings gritty details to light in the process of telling a story most of us can only imagine
The System looks at gangs in South LA, Lynwood primarily. I think he gets it quite right. The main characters are Wizard, Dreamer, and Dulce. Wizard is the power and Dreamer his follower. Dulce, first known as Little is the gay guy on the fringes, not respected by all, but able to use his friendship with Wizard and Dreamer to show how his astute mind can be of assistance. His progress in the gang ranks could be seen as forward momentum for gay rights, but I don't encourage it! Dreamer and Wizard are charged with an attempted murder even though we know that Dreamer was not present. Wizard, his supposed pal, lets him be charged and uses him in jail to advance his purposes. If there is a sympathetic character in The System, it is Dreamer. Gattis takes us from arrest to trial and its aftermath. We spend time in jail as well. I don't know much about the author, but he sure has a knack for the nitty gritty and tells it without disrespecting anyone. Thanks, NetGalley, for the ARC.
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Wow! I have had the good fortune to read several great books so far this year, and this one goes right to the top of the list of most enjoyed. I actually got into trouble with the wife, because I would not put it down and go to bed. It was that mesmerizing. 
The book is set in Los Angeles in 1993, after the Rodney King riots. The plot follows an attempted murder of a young gangster drug dealer, and of the two men arrested for the crime. It uses multiple voices, that of the person shot, of the two arrested men, of parole agents, detectives, District Attorneys, Public Defenders, and other gang (or wanna-be's) members. I think there are about a dozen different characters. 
The story is excellent. Entirely believable. Riveting. The confusion of the crime scene, the motives of some of the law enforcement, the political maneuverings to get ahead in careers (and in gang reputations), the jail scenes, the prison scenes, the courtroom scenes, descriptions of the gang (I think it's the Mexican Mafia). All were spot-on!
The author expertly uses the multiple characters voices to make you feel like you are there. 
I spent seven years as a Deputy Sheriff, then another 21 years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (in various positions). I can vouch for the author's descriptions. He really hits the nail on the head! 
All in all, this is an incredible book. After finishing the book (and taking a day to catch my breath), I immediately ordered some more of his books. I think I have a new favorite author to follow. 
Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an Advance Reading Copy of this book. 
Highly, highly recommend!
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After reading Gattis last effort Safe I knew his next novel was going to be big. It sure proved to be all of that and more. Crime novel fans rejoice we have the next crime novelist must read. A page turning epic suspense novel that takes you through the criminal justice system. Recommend.
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Very interesting approach to a criminal case. When two inner-city men are accused of multiple crimes, including murder, the story unfolds form multiple perspectives. First person jumps from character to character as the criminal justice system is examined/explained/revealed/exposed.
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