Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Right As Rain

by George Pelecanos

The first Derek Strange novel.  Strange, an ex-MPD cop getting into the PI business, is approached by the mother of a fellow black police officer who was shot during an arrest by a white cop, now off the force also.  The shooting was cleared, but the mother wants to clear her own son’s name, to counteract the popular image of him raving and pointing a gun at police officers.  Strange questions the shooter, a wiry bundle of rage named Terry Quinn, now working at a bookstore.  They get along, despite Quinn’s reputation and the very real racial divide.  Convinced that there is more to the shooting than appears, Strange and Quinn track the original perp in the incident and discover a connection to drug dealers both white and black, crooked cops, and maybe the dead officer’s estranged, drug-addled sister.

This is a powerful, exciting, and visceral novel.  Pelecanos knows DC streets, restaurant culture, the way criminals move and talk, types of weapons, and all the other little details that bring characters and plots to life.  He gives motivations and dreams to minor characters, dwells on the kinds of cars that a man likes only to have him killed a page later, and so on.  And of course, as with his other work, he doesn’t shy away from race.  Quinn is a good guy, but he did shoot the officer because a black man – not simply a man – was screaming at him with a gun; and everyone around him knows this.  Sure, Pelecanos writes his own interests into his characters as well – this is a world where all the women are hot and sensual and always interested and there is no foreplay; everyone worth knowing likes Western music or college rock; everyone eats oysters and spicy food and reads quality fiction.  (And also I wonder whether he meant to set this in the past, with the answering machines and tape decks – in 2001?)  But those are minor authorial quirks.  Strange and Quinn are memorable characters and serve as interesting foils; and the snappy, taut dialogue, along with a fascinating plot, kept me avidly turning the pages and rooting for the good guys, whoever they are.

four stars

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