Thursday, February 9, 2012

Book Review: What It Was by George Pelecanos

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 As we read in the preface, the inspiration for this book came from a conversation Pelecanos had with his friend and co-author of the cult, yet hugely successful TV series The Wire, Ed Burns. It’s been written at a feverish pace during the summer of 2011, and thus not long after the release of The Cut, that great crime novel, yet another book by this acclaimed writer hits the stands.
     The main characters in this story, as in many others by Pelecanos, are: private investigator Derek Strange, the city of Washington, D.C. and music. A minor role falls to Nick Stefanos, yet another one of his famous creations.
     At the beginning we meet Derek and Nick, now partners in a P.I. firm, as they sit in a diner eating, drinking and talking about things. But as one topic leads to the next, all of a sudden the former finds himself in a need to tell the latter a story from the distant past. The year was 1972, and back then there were a lot of things going on in the city; a lot of things, but not so strange. It was a time of change in everything; in politics, in fashion and in crime; in violent crime. However, the criminals that Derek is about to describe remind the reader of some infamous people from the past, Bonny and Clyde; a couple that modern day psychologists would refer to as sociopaths. The villains in this story are Robert Lee Jones, a trigger-happy psycho who’s known as Red Fury, and Coco Watkins, an impressive looking woman who owns a brothel.
     Derek will cross paths with them while investigating a seemingly trivial case, and before too long he’ll come to realize that what started off as a walk in the park is going to turn out to be something completely different. So, all of a sudden he’ll find himself in the epicenter of a circle, or rather, a cyclone of events that will culminate in a crime spree, unlike any other, during which murder, in the lips of the killer, will come to sound just like any other word. This case however will also give him the opportunity to meet again with an old friend, police detective Frank Vaughn, a meeting that will bring to him a little bit of joy, but at the same time awaken in him some dreadful memories. Now the two of them have to put their heads and their individual talents together to stop Jones, who seems to be more interested in his every day glory and his future legacy, than staying alive or becoming the city’s crime boss. As the action will be heading for its peak the author will go on doing what he does best, which is, talk about the city and describe its neighborhoods and its politics and habits, through the music, the people and their interactions. Here we meet cross-dressers, hookers, drug-addicts and drunks; people who are trying to hold on to life and people who have nothing to look forward to; hopeless and hopeful.
     A very good novel, well-written and with a fine story to tell but, in my humble opinion, not as good as The Cut. I’m sure the fans will love it though, not only for its action and pace, but also because it provides some useful info about the background of one of Pelecanos’ favorite heroes.

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