Esau Till never really had a chance. His mother was an unwilling victim, his father was meaner than a dogfight, and his brother was a beautiful, hapless child who desperately needed protection. While Esau came with brains, he also came with spina bifida. Confined to a wheelchair, you wouldn’t think he would be too effective against a habitual drunk who liked to hurt people just because he could.
"Esau Till is a great character study of a man with a mission, despite overwhelming odds. His survival instincts and matter-of-fact philosophies promise to remain unrivaled for quite some time. He will be remembered long after they put that needle in his arm. Andrew Vachss’s latest is simply a wonderful read."
That man, called The Beast, was Esau and Tory-boy’s father. The only use The Beast had for his kids was the money the government paid him for their disabilities. Tory-boy looked good on the surface, but his mind was as crippled as Esau’s body. And that’s what made Esau fiercely protective of his brother. So protective, in fact, that he devoted his life to keeping Tory-boy safe, a plan that should work even after his own death.
And Esau knows his own death is coming soon, because he is sitting on Death Row right now, writing his memoir --- which doubles as insurance in case someone tries to betray him --- unafraid of dying and unapologetic for how he got there. He still has to take care of Tory-boy, and his plan is almost finished.
Esau Till has to be about the most unique killer-for-hire ever invented. Rolling around in his wheelchair, brilliant, polite, possessed of a natural knowledge of right and wrong, good and bad, he does what he believes he has to do to take care of his little brother. “Esau Till might be a crippled man, but he was a man of his word. And he was not only a for-real outlaw --- he was smart. Real smart.”
From the time Tory-boy was born, Esau began plotting. He had already learned how to stay alive himself, but Tory-boy was slow, innocent, and much too trusting. Just getting through each day at home was tough enough. And the streets offered no better, for folks in that part of the country feared The Beast and wouldn’t dare lift a hand against him. Oh, yes, they knew what went on in that house, but were too scared to do anything about it. So Esau did what he felt he needed to do to make things better for Tory-boy. And he did some very bad things. One thing you could always say, though: Esau Till was plain-faced honest and committed.
When dealing with Esau, law enforcement tended to look the other way, since he was prone to killing people who mostly needed to be done away with. They effected an attitude of Why not focus on real problems? And that way of thinking worked quite well, right up until the night an FBI agent unwittingly got in the way. The Feds never quit when one of their own is killed. So this is what led Esau to Death Row. And that’s okay with him.
THAT’S HOW I ROLL doesn’t present a pretty picture. The story is raw and the characters are more so. But Esau Till is a great character study of a man with a mission, despite overwhelming odds. His survival instincts and matter-of-fact philosophies promise to remain unrivaled for quite some time. He will be remembered long after they put that needle in his arm. Andrew Vachss’s latest is simply a wonderful read.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on March 29, 2012