The sheen, the tension and the anguish of this first part is extra-ordinary. The wary transactions of the lumbering hoodlums, in the no man's land between Charley and Constantine, between loyalty and betrayal, are set out impercep-tibly and with striking effect. Such writing is hard to match, and in the remainder of the book Dexter doesn't manage to.
Peter's mother, a dim figure all along, has a mental breakdown. Phil takes Peter into his home and brings him up along with his own son, Michael. He tries to win his loyalty--at one point he takes him to a woman for his first sex--but never trusts him.
We follow the two boys as they grow up. Michael, fat and cowardly, turns into a vicious pervert whose power, first as his father's lieutenant and later as his successor, makes him a true monster. Peter, aloof and plucky, finds refuge working out in the boxing gym run by Nick, a decent, tough man who is fatherly with the boy and resolutely contemptuous of his uncle and cousin.
It is never more than a partial refuge. Michael, who hates Peter, claims him by kinship nonetheless, and makes him his henchman. Peter, until his final bloody revolt, works for his cousin in a state of emotional disassociation. He practices a despairing kind of protest by jumping from building roofs at not quite suicidal heights.