Right as Rain: A Novel [BARGAIN PRICE] by George P. Pelecanos
George Pelecanos's Washington, D.C., is a far cry from the upwardly mobile, tourist-attraction-speckled enclave of Margaret Truman (Murder at the National Cathedral, Murder in Georgetown). Pelecanos's capital is a haunting terrain of drugs and death, a no man's land of posturing dealers and skeletal warehouses that shelter their buyers:
A rat scurried into a dim side room, and a withered black face receded into the darkness. The face belonged to a junkie named Tonio Morris. He was one of the many bottom-of-the-food-chain junkies, near death and too weak to cut out a space of their own on the second floor; later, when the packets were delivered to those with cash, they'd trade anything they had, anything they'd stolen that day, or any orifice on their bodies for some rock or powder. When PI Derek Strange is hired by Chris Wilson's mother to find out why her son, a black cop, was killed by a white cop, Terry Quinn, on a dark night in that no man's land, Strange figures that the answer is painfully clear: a typical case of mistaken identity, fueled by the assumptions and preconceptions of Quinn's innate racism. But what Strange finds is a tentative kinship with Quinn, who is desperate to proclaim himself "color-blind." Kicked off the force and convinced that there's more to his own story, Quinn asks to join Strange in his investigation. As the two pry into the past, drifting through the neighborhoods both men have known all their lives, they find themselves enmeshed in a tangle of cold-blooded competition and heated personal enmity.
Pelecanos generally has a light touch with the treacherous quagmire of -isms, veering only occasionally into sententious meanderings about the consequences of an economically and racially divided society. His wry humor, particularly in his descriptions of Earl and Ray, the heroin middlemen who bring the concept of white trash to a depressingly low level, leavens the novel's noir bleakness. And Strange himself is a compelling character: a middle-aged black man who has seen more of life's callousness than he cares to admit, and whose jitteriness about personal commitment speaks volumes about his own expectations for happiness. A strong character and a good read--Pelecanos fans can settle in and look forward to Strange's next appearance. --Kelly Flynn
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Flawed but Compelling, May 29, 2003
Pelecanos' writing sometimes threatens to sink under the weight of its own savvy hipness. That said, he writes vivid, gripping, intelligent character-driven stories and this is no exception. Derek Strange, a black Washington PI is hired by the mother of a black policeman who has died in a shooting incident involving a white colleague, Terry Quinn. The mother's suspicions focus on Quinn and she is keen for Strange to dig into his background where she is sure something sinister awaits discovery. In fact, Strange and Quinn quite quickly become friends and together find much that is plenty sinister to uncover in quite different aspects of the incident. The plot is neatly put together, and Pelecanos has thoughtful and perceptive things to say about the psychological dynamics of racial distrust. The characterization is generally convincing though more so with the good guys than with the bad and much more so with male than female characters. Two small-ish qualms. In the first place, Pelecanos would probably do well to give up on sex scenes. When - as is the case here - they are weakly done and add nothing to our understanding of character or plot, they feel gratuitous and cynical. In the second place, I am certain the paragraph on pp8-9 describing Strange's professional equipment is not a case of literary product placement but it does read alarmingly like advertising copy.
--This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.