Soul Circus Hardcover – Mar 4 2003
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
This author immerses you in the characters and the city so well you feel like you are there. The story conclusion is not predictable but appropriate and completes the narrative.Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
Soul Circus was a disappointment after the first two Derek Strange novels (Hell To Pay and Right as Rain). Read morePublished on June 29 2004
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 morePublished on March 13 2004 by lazza
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 morePublished on March 2 2004 by Glen McKee
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
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 morePublished on Jan. 3 2004 by Sunanda Dutta
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 morePublished on July 9 2003 by Janet Hedberg
This book came highly recommended. ...
On an even more fundamental level, though, the story just isn't compelling. Read more
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 morePublished on May 22 2003 by J. G. Cohen