But they also see the childhood traumas that drove the Kid into the gang —such as the dark room into which his father’s boss at a coffee plantation disappeared with his 15-year-old sister— and the disillusion that made him try to leave it. His choice to become a government witness confined him to a precarious safe house, where the Martinez brothers interviewed him repeatedly. Behind-the-scenes details—the Kid’s tenderness toward his infant daughter, his openness, the permanent cloud of marijuana smoke—help humanise him. His life unspools through flashbacks and vivid prose that succeeds where Mr Dudley’s writing occasionally falls short. “Why do you want to tell my story?” the sicario asks. “Because we believe that your story, unfortunately, is more important than your life,” the authors answer sheepishly. When, predictably, the Kid was murdered by his own gang, they started writing.
“The Hollywood Kid” shows why thousands of adolescents who have never heard of AC/DC or set foot in America have had their lives shaped by MC-13, in turn shaping the trajectories of their countries. Mr Dudley takes on a trickier question: what to do about it? Programmes to peel away gang members and reintegrate them into society are “woefully underfunded and politically unpalatable”, he laments. There is little appetite in either America or El Salvador to dismantle the elements of “the monster” behind the carnage: hardline policing, mass incarceration and deportation, inadequate social services, economic inequality and political populism.
His subtitle is “The Making of America’s Most Notorious Gang”. Double-dealing by Salvadorean politicians is a reminder that Central America suffers most.