George Pelecanos's Washington, D.C., is a far cry from the upwardly mobile, tourist-attraction-speckled enclave of Margaret Truman (Murder at the National Cathedral
, Murder in Georgetown
). Pelecanos's capital is a haunting terrain of drugs and death, a no man's land of posturing dealers and skeletal warehouses that shelter their buyers:
A rat scurried into a dim side room, and a withered black face receded into the darkness. The face belonged to a junkie named Tonio Morris. He was one of the many bottom-of-the-food-chain junkies, near death and too weak to cut out a space of their own on the second floor; later, when the packets were delivered to those with cash, they'd trade anything they had, anything they'd stolen that day, or any orifice on their bodies for some rock or powder.
When PI Derek Strange is hired by Chris Wilson's mother to find out why her son, a black cop, was killed by a white cop, Terry Quinn, on a dark night in that no man's land, Strange figures that the answer is painfully clear: a typical case of mistaken identity, fueled by the assumptions and preconceptions of Quinn's innate racism. But what Strange finds is a tentative kinship with Quinn, who is desperate to proclaim himself "color-blind." Kicked off the force and convinced that there's more to his own story, Quinn asks to join Strange in his investigation. As the two pry into the past, drifting through the neighborhoods both men have known all their lives, they find themselves enmeshed in a tangle of cold-blooded competition and heated personal enmity.
Pelecanos generally has a light touch with the treacherous quagmire of -isms, veering only occasionally into sententious meanderings about the consequences of an economically and racially divided society. His wry humor, particularly in his descriptions of Earl and Ray, the heroin middlemen who bring the concept of white trash to a depressingly low level, leavens the novel's noir bleakness. And Strange himself is a compelling character: a middle-aged black man who has seen more of life's callousness than he cares to admit, and whose jitteriness about personal commitment speaks volumes about his own expectations for happiness. A strong character and a good read--Pelecanos fans can settle in and look forward to Strange's next appearance. --Kelly Flynn
From Publishers Weekly
Nearly a decade after Pelecanos (Shame the Devil; Nick's Trip) introduced Nick Stefanos to the private eye scene, the hard-boiled specialist has come up with a new urban gumshoe who's just as tantalizing to watch in action. Derek Strange, a black ex-cop in his mid-50s, walks the same Washington, D.C., streets as Stefanos, yet does so with far more experience under his belt. In his debut, Strange is hired to answer nagging questions about the death of black police officer Chris Wilson, who was killed by another cop in a shootout. Police investigators cleared Terry Quinn, the white cop who killed Wilson, but Strange soon discovers several hidden issues that may put a different spin on the case. Quinn confirms that he shot Wilson in self-defense, but admits he remains disturbed by the actions of the other people present at the scene of the conflict. Strange enlists his aid in the investigation and the case takes both men deep into the worlds of drug dealing, police corruption and racism. The plot rolls along in a workmanlike, almost predictable fashion. Yet as is usually the case with Pelecanos, it's the characters who give the story the gritty, dark twists that have become the author's trademark. The cast is wonderfully varied, yet Pelecanos also manages to capture the essence of most of his characters with just a few descriptive licks. It's Strange, however, who steals the show. He's a mature man with a highly defined sense of who he is--an aging private eye who knows that his best weapons these days are his wits and wisdom. (Feb. 6)Forecast: A new Pelecanos series hero is big news in the noir world. British, Italian, French and Japanese rights have already been sold, and a five-city author tour will start sales rolling in the U.S.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.