The narrative takes place over the course of one hot summer night in Philadelphia. Young Johnny Broom is a reckless, defiant hood that leads a small-time lot of losers called the Lancers. Broom's gang is set to rumble with a rival faction called the Violets in a section of abandoned row-houses deemed The Jungle. But, Broom's scheduled rumble is just a distraction for the cops. This hoodlum has a much larger agenda taking place.
With the cops dedicating their labor to the widely circulated rumble, Broom and two other guys are going to rob a local warehouse for a mid-level crime-boss. It's an audition for Broom to move up a few rungs on the criminal ladder. But, the book's most enduring element is that Broom's older brother Pete – a real nice good guy – works in the warehouse and has been coaching Broom to turn a corner and right his life on the straight and narrow. Will Broom kill Pete in the holdup?
This is a really unusual novel for Aarons and I've read enough of his crime-fiction to recognize some striking patterns here. Typically, Aarons doesn't write many crime-noir novels set in urban locations. His usual locale is the New England shoreline towns or the occasional lakeside cottages that permeate crime-noir paperbacks. Further, his crime novels are mostly void of any sexual depravity or heinous violence.
In Gang Rumble, a male character is mentioned as pleasing himself, which leads to an affair with a housemaid. There is also an attempted rape scene, which is a little more detailed than what Aarons normally presents to readers. One of the characters recalls killing fish by emptying the tank and watching them slowly perish. These are all very unusual aspects to Aarons writing. It reads more like something Ovid Demaris would write – perverted criminals engaging in ultra-violent ways. Or, at the very least a Jim Thompson-styled romp.
Whether Aarons was influenced by other writers (or assisted?), Gang Rumble is an enjoyable action-packed novel with plenty of intensity, riveting suspense, and an unpredictable formula. It has all of the popular crime-fiction tropes – kidnap, hostage, heist, police procedural – including unruly youngsters doing dastardly things. There's some social preaching here and there, mostly a repetitive pulpit soapbox on mankind's spiral into lawless savagery, which is eerily prophetic as the years roll on. While the author's literary estate is mostly locked tight, I'm glad this one slipped through and was able to be reprinted by Black Gat/Stark House Press. Highly recommended!