Talk Nerdy With Us
This well-written debut novel takes bits and pieces of several different literary genres and mixes them up into a category that defies description. The book, which is written in the first person, initially starts out like a contemporary family drama, then changes to a gritty crime thriller and finishes up as a murder mystery. Your road on this journey is mapped out by Ron Pickles, a young husband, and father who takes an insurance salesman job while he waits to be admitted to the Electrician’s Union training program.
Pickles’ sales territory (called a “ledger”) is on the near south side of Chicago. The story is set in the early 80’s when Cabrini Green, as well as the Robert Taylor homes and other housing projects, dominated the landscape of Chicago’s south shore. These were not places that anyone wanted to visit after dark as they were overrun and controlled by gangs while drugs, prostitution, and other assorted urban pitfalls thrived under their leadership. They were also predominantly (possibly completely) occupied by African Americans, which made Mr. Pickles – a blonde, blue-eyed white boy in a suit – stand out like a beacon in the night.
Mr. Allen teaches us all about how “burial insurance” was sold (and collected) door to door by these brave “‘shurance” men. Allen imbues Pickles with both humor and compassion as he deals with his customers, his colleagues, and his family. Pickles becomes your buddy, and you genuinely want him to get that union letter and get out of the insurance sales business.
I don’t like to put spoilers in my reviews, so I’m going to stop now with the highlights of the story. This self-published book is entertaining and had almost no typos or grammatical errors. Mr. Allen falls prey to an overuse of metaphor and has a tendency to over-describe a scene, but this is nothing that diminishes the flow of his story and should be rectified as he works on his craft and his second book
There is enough humor here to make this book a perfect beach or vacation read. You will learn about the insurance business first-hand and see what living on Chicago’s south side was like in the early ‘80s along with your laughs. I highly recommend that you pick this up or order it for your e-reader and give it, and D.G. Allen, a try. I think there is something for everyone here.
"The Black Ledger"
"A great read. Held onto me the whole time. With a twist I never saw coming. I look forward to more from this author."
"An Absolutely Steller Book"
"An absolutely stellar book. This writer really brings you into this world I could never imagine existed. I can picture every character in my head as I'm reading his descriptions of each of them. Once I started reading it had me hooked and I had a hard time putting it down. Each time I couldn't wait to get back to reading again. I will read this book again and again."
"Love this book!"
"Best book I have read in a long time!! The author really paints the characters well!"
“The ledger gets all of us eventually, just depends on how strong you are…the ledger has a life of its own; you should know that by now…”
There is something evil afoot in The Black Ledger, D.G. Allen’s masterful look at life in Chicago in the 1980s. By the time readers finish with this book, they will realize that the significance of The Black Ledger isn’t that it speaks to a bygone era more than thirty years ago or focuses on societal ills that are far removed from mainstream America. Rather, The Black Ledger speaks to our willingness to look beyond our own lives, to look beyond convenient labels of racial inferiority or superiority and to see people as people. That lesson remains timeless.
The Black Ledger is a riveting book that, at first reflection, presents itself as a crime thriller. But it is more than a crime thriller. Where this book succeeds is in its striking ability in taking on several permutations. The Black Ledger is a mystery. The Black Ledger is suspense. Yet, at its heart, the book is both a study in psychology and sociology. With themes of racism, love and adversity threaded within its narrative, The Black Ledger is thought-provoking. Perhaps this book will open up an honest dialogue about race relations, a conversation not centered on fear, mistrust and suspicion but one arising from mutual respect.
Ron Pickles is a young man at a crossroads in his life. Needing to provide for his wife and baby, Ron takes a job as a ledger agent with an insurance company. For Ron, this is supposed to be a temporary move. He is awaiting a letter from the electrician union and eager to began a career as an electrician. However, Fate cruelly intervenes putting Ron on a course that changes his life forever.
“Do you have a problem working with black people?” Ron is taken aback when he is asked this pointed question during his interview. Ron replies that he doesn’t, but what the novice ledger agent quickly realizes is that his job takes him into the heart of Chicago’s most dangerous and racially segregated ghetto, a place where gangs reign supreme and killings are a daily occurrence.
Allen doesn’t sugarcoat the narrative. He writes about extreme poverty, violence and the often hopeless circumstances of this black community. This is particularly risky for Allen who must tell this story through Ron’s eyes, a young white man thrust into an unfamiliar environment trying to do a difficult job selling and collecting insurance. Allen’s skill, I feel, is crafting Ron as the anti-hero in this tale. Ron makes missteps. He is awkward. He says and does the wrong
things at times. Has Ron harbored racist ideas in the past? Yes. Do some of Ron’s black clients harbor racist ideas about him? Yes. These are two different worlds colliding where they both have fed into societal notions of racism. Allen shows the ignorance on both sides of the spectrum.
We see Ron’s character growth throughout the book. To help the character along in this process, his work as a ledger agent introduces him to two crucial supporting characters: Sandra Wesley and Ruppert. Sandra is a young mother of three children who isn’t content to continue as a welfare recipient stereotype; rather, she desires a better life for herself and her children and attends beauty school to make her dreams a reality. In addition, Sandra buys insurance from Ron as protection for herself and her children. Along the way, a special relationship emerges between these two fractured souls. This relationship serves the plot extremely well and is the foundation for some of the most emotionally heartbreaking moments of the book
Readers would be wise to pay particular note in these scenes as Allen meticulously foreshadows some key clues for the various plots.
Another intriguing character is Ruppert, a nefarious drug dealer who rules the streets with an iron fist. Ruppert is a scary guy, yet he is also a study in contradictions: The gun toting drug lord subscribes to an unexpected code of decency that surprises Ron and will undoubtedly surprise readers. Like the scenes with Sandra, Ron’s exchanges with Ruppert are genius towards establishing characters and advancing plot. Towards the end of the book, readers will find their hearts pounding alongside Ron. And like Ron, readers will feel the evil of the black ledger as it destroys lives. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but Allen’s writing talent will excite readers.
If there is the proverbial phoenix arising from the ashes in this book, it is Ron.
A word of caution: The Black Ledger contains very painful language. The hardest part for me was dealing with the painful language and profanity in the story. Because Allen writes from a raw, honest place, he made a courageous decision to construct his tale as realistic as possible. Realism isn’t pretty. Realism doesn’t apologize for offensive dialogue. Realism wants to tell the truth. Realism wants us to remove our blinders so that we can instead see with our hearts. I applaud D.G. Allen for taking the road less traveled towards realism as he tells an important, thought-provoking and enduring story.
For his debut effort, D.G. Allen gives readers well-written characters and plots, a mystery that comfortably unfolds, and gut wrenching emotion. The Black Ledger will keep readers talking for many years to come.
"I could not stop reading this!!!"
"I normally go for the chick lit genre so I was surprised at how much I loved this book. I could not stop reading it. It is a murder mystery but also keeps you laughing till the end. The author got the balance just right. Every time I had to put the book down, I could not wait to go back into Ron's life. It completely pulled me into his world. It is going on my list of books that I will read over and over again."
"An Excellent Read"
"An excellent read and page turner. The characters are likable and the author makes you feel like you are right there with the main character, Ron, throughout the book. I appreciated the realistic approach that takes the reader into what life was like in the Chicago ghetto in the 1980s. There are also funny parts that make you laugh out loud. It is easy to read and easy to follow. Content from the mean streets of Chicago to portrayals of friendships, love, empathy and deceit....you won't want to put this book down."
"Allen made this an easy book to read..."
"D.G.Allen made this an easy book to read - very descriptive - making you feel you were in the middle of his life. The unexpected ending was a total surprise - a "holy cow!" moment. Things you'll never find in a history book."
The Black Ledger is a thoughtful book because it holds a mirror up to societal imperfections without attempting to mask those imperfections. Racism is an ageless, insidious cancer embedded in the history of the world. The Black Ledger examines racism through the eyes of characters implored to question the differences between people not with disdain but with understanding.
Through his prose, Allen doesn’t presume to heal racism and put a bandaid over its wounds. No author can be expected to succeed at so Herculean a task. Rather, what Allen invites readers to do is to travel along with his characters: to think, to become angry, and to cry. To experience outrage and to experience disgust and to experience pain at the tragedies and injustices driving this narrative become, I would argue, the welcomed burdens of the reader. For these emotions mean that we are willing to open up an honest dialogue instead of avoiding a subject that which makes us uncomfortable.
The 1980s Chicago offers the backdrop for The Black Ledger. The story is mostly told through the character of Ron Pickles, a young white man who takes a job as a ledger agent at Unified Insurance. Ron expects this work as a ledger agent to be but a way station towards his destination towards becoming an electrician. Admittedly, his career aspiration couldn’t be more different than the job he needs to put food on the table for his wife and child. But once Ron receives a coveted letter from the electricians’ union and begin his apprenticeship, he plans to quit the black ledger.
The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote of “the best laid plans of mice and men” in a famous verse reminding us of life’s uncertainty. Ron Pickles discovers that what he envisioned as a temporary job as a ledger agent will change his life forever.
Allen approaches Ron’s story in a linear fashion. In an almost journal like strategy, we follow the dates in Ron’s life. We feel his frustrations awaiting word from the electricians’ union as he seeps deeper into his role as a ledger agent selling and collecting insurance in the heart of Chicago’s violent and racially segregated inner city.
There are some real challenges to writing a story with racism as a prevalent theme: How does one tell the story honestly without offending its readers? Painful language and the ignorance of both black and white characters in seeing each other without bias and suspicion clouding their view frame this book. The thing about Ron is that he is a product of this culture. Ron isn’t a fairytale hero charged with making society into a Norman Rockwell ideal. He isn’t attempting to come into this Chicago neighborhood like some white knight to save the people: He has a job to do and at the forefront of his mind as well is not losing his life while doing that job. In addition, the money that Ron makes as a ledger agent is quite seductive. Yet, The Black Ledger lives up to its name as a crime thriller with evil permeating throughout the pages.
The game changer is when Ron meets Sandra Wesley, a young mother with three children. Sandra has made mistakes in the past, but she is equally determined to rise above her circumstances as a welfare recipient by attending beauty school to give herself and her children a better life. She buys insurance from Ron. Soon, the two bond over an appreciation of Beatles’ music and a respect for each other. The honesty and ease at which Ron and Sandra talk about race, fully aware of their lack of knowledge about each other’s experiences yet not using differences as an impediment in formulating their friendship, is a wonderful thing. In many ways, Ron and Sandra understand each other better than the people they are closest to in their lives.
Lest you think The Black Ledger is all heavy emotional scenes, you would be wrong. Allen weaves humor in his book. The humor succeeds because it isn’t forced; the humor becomes a natural moment in the story. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but dog lovers will appreciate the humorous scenes.
In addition, readers would be wise to pay close attention to the interactions and dialogue between the other ledger agents at Unified Insurance. Characters like Otis, Meadows, Hamilton, Lobranski, Guru and Uhlen shape the story and enrich the suspense. Foreshadowing is generously used although not obvious enough to insult reader intelligence. Perhaps because The Black Ledger is rooted in a true story allows Allen to develop a kinship with these characters that shows in his writing. The physical descriptions of the characters along with their motivations unfold for the reader.
Psychology, sociology and history all play a role in establishing the solid foundation of The Black Ledger. I caution readers: The Black Ledger isn’t an easy read. You will find yourself emotionally exhausted when you finish the book. Hopefully, like Ron, you will see the emotional scars as a badge of growth. How you saw yourself when you began reading may not be how you see yourself when you finish reading. But that’s a good thing. Get angry. Cry. As importantly, don’t be afraid to think, discuss and question those things which you may have felt were the norm. The Black Ledger has provided the roadmap towards an honest dialogue.
"Loved the book! This book grips you right from the beginning and holds you there all the way to the end. You really get caught up in the life of the main character, Ron Pickle, and will have a hard time putting this book down. What a great novel... fast-paced with plenty of suspense!!"
"I loved the insight to Cabrini Green and the Chicago ghetto. I couldn't wait to see what was going to happen next. The author pulled you in and made you care about all of the characters."
"Wow! What a page turner! I haven't devoured a book this quickly in years. I know D.G. Allen is a new writer, but his writing is wonderful and speaks from the heart. This book has so many levels. I'm sure it will not be long before D.G. Allen will be a well known name."
"One of the best books I have read in a long time"
"One of the best books I have read in a long time. Great read, difficult to put down...
Can't wait to read more from D. G. Allen."