Archive for category George Pelecanos

George Pelecanos 16: The Way Home

A friend recently gave me a Kindle for my birthday so naturally the first “e-book” I purchased was that of my favorite author, George Pelecanos, and his latest novel, The Way Home. Once again, Pelecanos delivers. And he does so using the same, simple formula he uses in just about about all of his books. We meet the main character and his friends and family. Then we meet the bad guys. Then there is a build-up to an eventual confrontation between the main character and the bad guys. While the premise sounds basic, it always seems to work. My only criticism, and a small one at that, is that as a long-time reader, you may anticipate the direction and eventual outcome of certain things. But the story is good and the dialogue is so crisp that it really doesn’t matter. The Way Home focuses on Chris Flynn, a troubled teen who winds up in a Washington, D.C. juvenile detention facility. As one of the few white inmates, Flynn faces some serious challenges, but he also develops some surprising friendships. We then fast forward several years and check up on Flynn and some of his pals from juvie as they are in their mid-20s and trying to sort out their lives and make a living. In true Pelecanos form, his characters drink, they smoke and several do drugs. In fact, marijuana usage is a staple of this book just as smoking a joint is an everyday urban occurrence rarely depicted in print. But the point is also made that the myriad legal problems faced by Flynn can be directly traced to his recreational pot use as a teenager. (Similar to the consequences of war shown in The Turnaround, Pelecanos also shows the perils of drinking and drunk driving.) Another Pelecanos trademark is his extensive knowledge of people, places and things in D.C. In this case, one of his locales is the U.S. National Arboretum, which I had never heard of. Ben’s Chili Bowl also gets a mention in the book, but in uncharacteristic Pelecanos fashion, Murry’s is mistakenly called Murray’s. Food faux pas aside, The Way Home was a worthy first addition to my Kindle. It wasn’t the best Pelecanos book, but still damn good and a notch above the standard fare out there.

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George Pelecanos 15: The Turnaround

Back in the late 1990’s, I read a Washington City Paper cover story about this cool local author named George Pelecanos, who wrote noir fiction that took place in the District. I searched and searched, but I just couldn’t find any Pelecanos novels in area bookstores. Finally, I went the mail order route, and purchased the Nick Stefanos trilogy: A Firing Offense, Nick’s Trip and Down By The River Where The Dead Men Go, which had been published in Great Britain of all places. I’ve been hooked on Pelecanos ever since. In the genre of “urban fiction,” it just doesn’t get any better. Except when Pelecanos cranks out a new novel, which always seems to be a little better than the last one. The Turnaround is a prime example. Based upon a fictional racial incident in the ’70s, Pelecanos picks up the story some 35 years later in modern D.C. As always, Pelecanos features a cast of characters that are not just good and bad, black and white, but good and bad folks who happen to be white and good and bad folks who happen to be black. But what ultimately sets Pelecanos apart from other authors is his ear for conversation. Sure, Pelacanos nails the speaking parts of his trademark Greek character Alex Pappas. But where Pelecanos takes it to another level is the dialogue of his inner city characters. Brothers James and Raymond Monroe — who were New York Knicks fans back when D.C. didn’t have an NBA team — are brought to life in the book, as are young drug dealers Deon Brown and Cody Kruger, and old school felon Charles Baker. Pelecanos also works two of his passions, cars and music, into the story, which — as always — features various doses of drugs, alcohol and violence. (The war in Iraq and Afghanistan is also a topic, but instead of Pelecanos making a political statement, he simply has a couple of his characters emotionally tied to soldiers, both dead and wounded.) The Turnaround is ultimately about family, friends and second chances. In typical Pelecanos fashion, the book will make you laugh and it will also bring a tear to your eye. And once you finish, you’ll realize that you just read a damn good, feel good novel.

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