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Soul Circus [Hardcover]

George P Pelecanos
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 4 2003 Pelecanos, George
Granville Oliver is a drug lord on trial for his life. Derek Strange is the private investigator, family man, and Pee Wee Football coach with his own reasons for helping him. With his quick-tempered partner Terry Quinn keeping him sharp, and the old-school sounds of the Chi-Lites and the Spinners keeping him right, Strange is close to finding the struggling single mother whose testimony can save the notorious criminal Granville from the death penalty. But D.C.'s shattered streets have turned into a free-for-all. Hip-hop warriors are armed to the teeth while one man ignites a pitched battle for Granville's turf. On one side: Strange, Quinn, and an innocent woman's life. On the other: a murderous merry-go-round of bad young men with good new guns just waiting to go off....

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From Amazon

George Pelecanos's Washington, D.C., is a place rife with high-living drug dealers, easily obtained guns, and a generation depleted by ignorance, excessive machismo, and misplaced trust in the equalizing power of violence. Yet PI Derek Strange "did love D.C.," as Pelecanos acknowledges in Soul Circus, his third novel (after Right as Rain and Hell to Pay) to feature this mid-50s black detective and his younger white partner, Terry Quinn. Strange's optimism may be running at even higher gear than normal here, following his marriage to his longtime secretary, Janine Baker, and his determination to be a good stepfather to her son.

Picking up where Hell to Pay left off, we find Strange working in Soul Circus on behalf of Granville Oliver, a manipulative black mobster charged with murder and racketeering, who faces the death penalty. To help his client knock that sentence down to life imprisonment, Strange will have to find a nail salon worker named Devra Stokes, who used to be the girlfriend of Phillip Wood, a former associate of Oliver's and now the prosecution's chief witness against him. Stokes had sworn out an abuse complaint against Wood, and might testify that he was behind at least one of the killings Oliver is said to have planned. But, fearing for her own safety and that of her young son, she wants no part of Oliver's defense. Meanwhile, Quinn--against his better judgment--helps a homely, unpredictable gangsta-wannabe, Mario "Twigs" Durham, locate his girlfriend, who supposedly went missing, but in fact skipped out with his drug stash. Even as the threads of this yarn come together amid a deadly gang conflict, Pelecanos stays focused on his characters--not only his intriguingly troubled sleuths, but also a deftly nuanced cop-turned-gun dealer, Ulysses Foreman. Buttressed by Pelecanos's street-slangy prose, Soul Circus delivers an un-blindered perspective on urban life (and death) that manages to be both frightening and hopeful. Not so unlike the city in which it's set. --J. Kingston Pierce

From Publishers Weekly

PI Derek Strange continues to prowl the South East quadrant of Washington, D.C., in Pelecanos's 11th novel (after Hell to Pay), which caroms madly and brilliantly between warring drug crews, opportunistic gun dealers and intimidated witnesses. Strange is hired by lawyers defending Granville Oliver, a murderous high-profile drug dealer now headed for death row. Strange has to locate a reliable witness who could earn Granville a commutation to life in prison. His best bet is Devra Stokes, the former girlfriend of Philip Wood, a deputy drug dealer who had worked under Oliver and testified against his boss. Stokes filed a brutality complaint against Wood, and Strange might be able to cast doubt on Wood's credibility, if he can only find the disgruntled ex-girlfriend. Strange is growing weary of the dejection in this neighborhood, of fatherless black boys who become gullible thugs who go on to orphan another generation. But the real crime, Pelecanos suggests, is the ready supply of firearms ("Simple as buying a carton of milk. And you didn't even need big money to do it... the community could chip in to buy one. What they called a neighborhood gun"). These guns, Pelecanos reminds us, are wielded by little more than children who want to impress their friends. Dewayne and Mario Durham, teenaged brothers trying to work their way up the ladder of thugdom, are prime examples, and Mario's blind allegiance to his smarter younger brother has terrible consequences. The ensemble cast also includes charismatic mercenary gun dealer Ulysses Foreman. Foreman and Strange are the oldest characters in the cast, and as the body count rises, Pelecanos keeps readers guessing as to who will bow first. This is vintage Pelecanos, with characters to remember, dialogue that rocks, an unsentimental, kinetic tableau of the D.C. underworld and, most of all, a conscience.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read For A Detective Novel April 10 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I usually don't read books about gumshoes since I didn't have an interest in the genre. But I read this book because it takes place in Washington, DC, and the author is also a Washingtonian. I throughly enjoyed this book but I don't think the character Terry Quinn was well rounded. He just seemed like a stereotypical angry white male who can't seem to understand "street life". It's not like living in Beirut when you live in Anacostia nor is it a place you want to get caught in walking at night when you're not from around there. Though I found Quinn more interesting than the protagonist Private Investigator Derek Strange, mostly because Quinn played an oddball. He was made out to be at least somewhat knowledgable in what he was doing since he was a former District cop. Then again I was mystified as to why he couldn't figure out how to navigate the urban territories to find this missing girl he was looking for. I found this a little annoying, I mean you don't walk up to people with a gun when you don't plan on shooting them. His death (or possible death?) could've been avoided if he wasn't so stupid in the end. Overall I enjoyed reading this book and look forward to reading another book with Derek Strange as the main character.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Life in the raw July 29 2003
I am continually puzzled at reading other reader's "lists," or perusing the 'mystery/drama' section of Borders or Waldenbooks, to see Burke and Crais and Lehane visibly displayed and Pelecanos, well, at least he's on the shelves.
You like the dark mystery, the true mystery noir? You must read Pelecanos. Stuck, sentenced, incarcerated or living there by choice, Derek Strange, black, muscular, aging gracefull, wise, and Terry Quinn, younger, white, more hot blooded, less introspective, prowl the streets of Washington and Maryland righting toppled lives where they can and seeking retribution when possible. They fail at the former from time to time but rarely at the latter.
When Derek signs on to help the Defense team for a self admitted Black crime king, Quinn goes along, admittedly with some reluctance. But Derek explains that he feels he must do something to stand up against the government from snuffing out the lives of black men when it chooses to. He defends, he tells Quinn, not Granville Oliver the mobster but Granville Oliver the Black Man whom the Feds have targeted for execution.
It's a tricky bit of writing but Pelecanos pulls it off. Franklin wrote about the signatories of the Declaration of Independance, "We had better hang together or we will certainly hang separately."
And that is the sum total of Pelecanos' mysteries. They're good; they're harsh; they're even disturbing. But all along there is that call to 'hanging together.' We have to get along. Some are offended by Pelecanos' tendency to preach. But I don't see it that way. He just uses the forum of writing excellent mysteries to point out a few painful truths. Coughlin and Burke do the same thing regarding alcohol. Parker does it with relationships.
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4.0 out of 5 stars LOST SOULS ON PARADE May 27 2003
SOUL CIRCUS is a crime drama about the drug game and the consequences those
involved in it face. Set in the backdrop of the violent Southeast section of
DC, SOUL CIRCUS gives a glimpse into the lives of local drug dealers fighting
over turf and trying to establish reputations in the absences of the fallen
kingpin, Granville Oliver, who is involved in a capitol murder case.
Derek Strange is a private investigator in Washington, DC tasked with finding
witnesses that will make his blatantly guilty drug czar client seem less
lethal than he actually is. Strange is a hardworking ex-cop turned PI who is
on a quest to right wrongs and heal a thirty year old wound. Strange is from
a different era than the modern drug gangsters. He often reminiscences about
past times, music from the Seventies, and recollections of old western
flicks. He has been a presence in his community for over two decades and has
managed to maintain a respectable and moderately successful investigation
SOUL CIRCUS is a slow deliberate read that lays out the drug scene and players
in the South East section of Washington, DC. The supporting characters are as
quirky and stereotypical as are their dilemmas. George Pelecanos' writing
style affects the reader like a weathered newspaper reporter who has been
working a beat for years. He knows all of the players and has heard all of
the stories and is not surprised by the outcomes. SOUL CIRCUS is a gritty
story that leans on the tragic familiar. The story would have been richer if
Mr. Pelecanos had delved further into the main characters and showed what made
them tick.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Murder Capital Once Again... May 12 2003
By A. Ross
I've lived in DC for 20 years and Pelecanos is only the second author I've come across who writes about the DC that I know and recognize (the other is Edward Jones, check out his story collection "Lost in the City" if you can find it). The third book in the Derek Strange series picks up immediately where Hell To Pay left off. In the wake of drug lord Granville Oliver's arrest (as detailed in Hell To Pay), two street gangs are attempting to fill the void his departure has left on the drug market. Meanwhile, Strange is working for Oliver's defense team, gathering background information on various witnesses. This surprising assignment mainly involves the search for one woman, and it soon becomes apparent that someone doesn't want Strange to find her.
Here, Pelecanos weaves a critique of the city's treatment at the hands of Congress into the story. Despite the city's 1981 repeal of the death penalty, and a 1992 citywide referendum that rejected the death penalty by a 2-1 margin, federal prosecutors have sought the death penalty in high-profile D.C. cases (such as the "Starbucks murders") with support from Congress. Strange tells himself he's working for the ex-drug lord as a matter of anti-death penalty conscience, but as in all of Pelecanos' books, there's more to it than that (as readers of Hell To Pay will know). The one misstep in his treatment of this is the appearance of a "big brother" conspiracy element that threatens to push the story into the "24/X-Files" zone. Fortunately, this never becomes too overt, and the story is allowed to move at its own pace.
Even more than in the first two books, Strange and his fiery white partner, Terry Quinn find themselves tilting at windmills in a crusade to make just a tiny difference to their community.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed But Not Dissuaded
Soul Circus was a disappointment after the first two Derek Strange novels (Hell To Pay and Right as Rain). Read more
Published on June 29 2004 by "wshntnls"
3.0 out of 5 stars a seemingly very derivative Pelecanos novel...
Firstly, I have read just about all books by George Pelecanos through 'Soul Circus' ... and so I can be described as one of his fans. Read more
Published on March 13 2004 by lazza
3.0 out of 5 stars Uneven at best
I know I'm in the minority here, but I found this book to be mostly boring, with not much to distinguish it from the one that came before it. Read more
Published on March 2 2004 by Glen McKee
5.0 out of 5 stars a good book
i new reader to this guys books. i just say that of what i have read i look forward to reading this guy next books.
Published on Feb. 29 2004 by matt
5.0 out of 5 stars Pelecanos excels again
Yet another excellent Pelecanos novel. The third appearance of Derek Strange and Terry Quinn. Sharp characterization, gritty urban setting, excellent description of despair and... Read more
Published on Jan. 3 2004 by Sunanda Dutta
4.0 out of 5 stars TOO Harsh For ME!
I have read all of Mr. Pelecanos books that are still in print and had become fond of Strange and Quinn. However, I almost didn't finish this book. Read more
Published on July 9 2003 by Janet Hedberg
2.0 out of 5 stars Extremely disappointing
This book came highly recommended. ...
On an even more fundamental level, though, the story just isn't compelling. Read more
Published on June 28 2003 by "fruitcake62"
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather be "At the Circus"
I loved the first two Strange/Quinn tales and had high hopes. Sorry to say this story never engaged me and I can't really recommend it. Read more
Published on May 22 2003 by J. G. Cohen
5.0 out of 5 stars Soul Circus Delivers
Soul Circus is a winner, with an ending that will blow you away. I think the ending Pelecanos chose was brilliant as I believe now it will become Strange/Stefanos Investigations :)
Published on May 12 2003
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