Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Review: "The Martini Shot: A Novella and Short Stories" by George Pelecanos

George Pelecanos has been one of my favorite crime writers for a number of years now. I've read everything he's written, and I'm always blown away by the crackling action scenes, his exploration of racial tensions, and his opening up a new perspective on the Washington, DC of the 1970s and 1980s. I also love the complexity of his characters—much like real life, no one is completely good or bad, which makes them tremendously compelling.

The seven stories in Pelecanos' first collection, The Martini Shot boast many of the same characteristics which make his novels so appealing. For the most part, these aren't the happiest of stories, as each of the main characters is struggling with something—addiction, greed, violence, guilt—or often more than one of these. And although you can often figure out the path these stories will take, Pelecanos' writing ability raises them up a notch or two.

Some of my favorites included "Miss Mary's Room," where a young man remembers the carefree days of his youth and a close friendship before crime changed everything; "When You're Hungry," about an insurance investigator who travels to Brazil to find an allegedly dead man, but finds his perfect case closure record may be in jeopardy (among other things); "Plastic Paddy," which illustrates how letting your friends see you vulnerable is never good for your friendship; and "Chosen," which provides some back story on Spero Lucas, a character from a few of Pelecanos' most recent novels. (This story reminded me how I'm more than ready for another Spero Lucas novel—hope that's next from Pelecanos!)

The collection also contains a novella, "The Martini Shot," which goes behind the scenes of a television crime show and follows one of the show's writers (probably loosely based on Pelecanos' own involvement with The Wire). But this is just more than a you-are-there type of story, as the writer finds himself caught between the woman he loves and the trouble a friend finds himself in. Even though the story was tied up at the end, I found this really interesting, and would have loved to keep reading this.

There wasn't anything I didn't like about the collection; I just wasn't blown away by every story. I felt as if a few duplicated themselves a bit, and some didn't grab me as much the other stories, or other Pelecanos novels, have in the past. His excellent storytelling ability is on display, but some of the stories needed a little more time to develop.

If you've never read anything by George Pelecanos, you need to remedy that. While this collection isn't his best work, it's still a great example of why he's one of my favorite writers—and why I can't wait for his next book to come out, even if it's a year or so away.

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