Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Book Review: "What It Was" by George Pelecanos

George Pelecanos, you are easily one of my most favorite crime writers around. I seriously don't understand why you aren't more of a household name given how talented you are. Your ability to evoke a specific time and place, to create tremendously memorable characters set you apart from so many of your peers, and I've found myself getting attached to a number of your protagonists over the years. Just promise me you'll continue writing this type of book, because you're at your best when the action crackles and some of your characters are up to no good.

It's 1972 in Washington, D.C. The city is finally getting settled again after the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King. Derek Strange has recently set up shop as a private investigator after leaving the police force, and he is hired by a young woman to find a piece of costume jewelry she claims has sentimental value. His investigation connects him with a former police colleague, Frank "Hound Dog" Vaughn, who is looking into the brazen murder of a local drug addict. They both discover they're looking for the same person, "Red Fury" Jones, so named because of his hair color and the make of getaway car his girlfriend, who runs a house of prostitution, drives. As Red becomes bolder and bolder, his crime spree leads Vaughn and Strange across the entire city and brings them into contact with the Baltimore organized crime syndicate. Red knows how it all will end, and he doesn't care, but Vaughn is determined to nab his suspect, and Strange wants to get to the bottom of his own case, and determine why the missing ring is so important to his client.

What It Was is a great example of George Pelecanos' writing at its best. He draws you right into the plot and gets you completely acclimated into 1970s-era Washington—the clothes, the cars, the lawlessness, and the still-slightly-uneasy relationship between the races. While there's not a tremendous amount of suspense in the book, the action and the many layers of plot he has created keep you plowing through the chapters. Honestly, if there's anything wrong with this book, it's that at 246 pages, it's a little too short. But it's great to get a glimpse of a younger Derek Strange, who was the main character in a number of Pelecanos' earlier books. This is a great addition to his already impressive roster of books. And if you've never read anything by Pelecanos before, and you're a fan of crime thrillers, get going. Pick one up now. Trust me.

1 comment:

  1. Larry - hope you get notified when someone comments on your blog.

    I finished this book last night and really enjoyed it. I think it took me about three weeks to read the first 40% and then I flew threw the rest in a day or two. Typical Pelecanos book (so you know it's good) but, like you, I found it to be a little too short. The brevity did fit in with the concept of the book (supposed to be a modern-day Strange relating the story of Red Fury to a modern-day Nick Stefenos) but this novel lacked some of the range that some of Pelecanos' other works have had.

    I've read about 2/3 of his novels but this was the first of the Derek Strange books that I've read. Will have to move on to another one.