“A brilliant, mind-blowing debut novel that ends with a big surprise. Five stars!”
— Seattle Book Review
Las Vegas, 1982. Brady Wilks, a teenage transplant from the Midwest, navigates life in the dusty suburban outskirts of an aberrant 24-hour town built by the Mob. Outcast as a newcomer, Brady forges a brotherly bond with an older teenage neighbor, Mick, and his friend, Brett. But when Brett unexpectedly moves away, Mick invites a new kid into their pack, squeezing out the last remnants of their childhood in favor of a new world laced with cartel-supplied drugs and the deal of a lifetime.
Third Wheel is a powerful novel about belonging, betrayal, and breaking away from paths laid out by others, even when it means grasping at an uncertain future. It is the story of a boy trying to find his identity without the benefit of a role model by taking chances on random and fragile relationships forged in the predawn hours of a future boomtown.
Desolate and gritty, Third Wheel is a triumphant debut novel, and Brady Wilks is remarkable as a transformative protagonist. Four-time award-winning author Richard R. Becker once again shares his unique insight into the human condition.
Mick and I jumped into the pool to cool off. We were hot, having just cut the twenty-foot oleanders that framed his family's backyard to eight feet, about a foot higher than the dull gray cinderblock walls that cemented boundaries between families.
They called them privacy walls in Las Vegas, making the backyard barbecue subculture of this desert suburbia feel all the more exclusive. It took more effort to be a nosy neighbor than it had at my childhood home in the Midwest, where kids ran barefoot across open backyards with toy machine guns and water pistols.
Nobody did anything like that in the desert. Unless you owned a pool, people hid away from the heat inside with central air or outside under big trees that were as foreign to the area as the people who called it home. We had one of those big trees in our unusable backyard, which is why I considered myself lucky to have Mick as a best friend. His family owned a pool.
Helping cut down oleanders was a small price to pay for having what amounted to a second home. Sure, the work was hard but bearable. It had taken us the better part of the morning, attacking the bushes with machetes and trying to make the job go faster by pretending to be the living incarnations of our Dungeons & Dragons characters. We imagined hacking away a path through the Amedio Jungle on an adventure.
Like our characters, Mick did most of the muscle work, while my approach was more akin to a ranger or woodsman. It suited us. We had custom modeled his character after an overman out of a Lawrence Watt-Evans novel because he was a big kid, already standing six foot three at the end of ninth grade. I was a year behind and not exactly short, about five ten, but my frame was growing faster than I could fill it. So he hacked, and I trimmed.
Looking up at it out of the pool confirmed we had done a good job. We deserved to take the rest of the day off. We might have too, had the two brothers who lived in the cul-de-sac behind our houses not taken the shortened privacy wall as an invitation. They hopped right up on the bricks and looked down at the tangle of branches, leaves, and pink and white flowers that we would clean up tomorrow.
"Man, you’re both nuts." Travis whistled, surveying our work. "You should have used a hedge trimmer."
"Didn't have one." Mick shrugged from the water.
"Yeah, who does?" Travis laughed.
"What's your point?" Mick said, putting his arms up around the side of the pool.
Travis was the more annoying of the two brothers. They were another year behind me and already had a reputation as being punks. My younger sister was friends with a girl who lived next door to them, and I always told her to steer clear. We mostly did the same, except when it came to business.
"Hey, Mick," Trevor said, swinging his legs over the back wall and perching himself between two of the haggard oleanders. "Give us a dime?"
"No way, unless you got cash," Mick said, grabbing a towel off the yellow and green plastic tubing of the lawn chair. "Your credit isn't good with me anymore."
"You're kidding me, right?" he said. "I'm not good for a dime?"
"You already owe me twenty, and I was coming over to collect today."
"So, what's stopping you?" Travis said, crossing his arms.
"I'm waiting for Alex. He’s the one floating you."