I've been reading Pelecanos's books for almost 20 years now, and this latest hits all the marks fans of his have to come to love and expect: cars, music, food, movies, crime, the importance of family and fathers, the struggles of young men to become men, and, of course, a street-level view of everyday Washington, D.C. So, if you've previously read and enjoyed his work, this one should be just as satisfying. And if you're a newcomer, this is a fine place to start.
This book introduces a new protagonist, Spero Lucas, the adopted son of a Greek-American family who has returned to D.C. after years as a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pelecanos has touched upon the world of veterans in other books, but this is the first to feature one as the main character. Coincidentally, the last book I read before this was Night Dogs, a blistering police novel about a Vietnam veteran cop in mid-'70s Portland. Its portrait of the struggle of a Vietnam vet to adapt to life outside the war (based heavily on the author's own experiences as a cop) gives great insight into the ways going to war can change people forever, and not for the better.
Here, Pelecanos tackles the same dilemma facing many young people coming back home from America's warzones. Spero spent his youth to the military, and now he's in his late-20s, somewhat adrift in civilian society. He's smart, but has no interest in going to college, and spends his days, biking, kayaking, and working as an unlicensed investigator for a criminal defense attorney at the princely wage of $15/hour. The work is interesting enough, but when one of the lawyer's clients makes a proposition to hire Spero for something on the shady side, Spero is lured in by both the money and the potential risk. And that, as Chapter 1 concludes is when, "the truck began to roll downhill."
What follows is a typically engaging Pelecanos story, full of procedural detail, taking the reader across the city. From a classroom at Cardozo High School (where Pelecanos has done some work with kids), to a VFW post, to eerie warehouses in the far reaches of the city, to the legendary Florida Avenue Grill, he is the foremost guide to the streets and people of Washington, D.C. I used to work right down the block from one area that features in the plot, and I drive and bike through the area Spero lives in on a daily basis, and Pelecanos has the sights and sounds dead on. Speaking of sounds, the music for this book is dub, which is a new territory for him, and if you want some good tunes to accompany your read of this book, pick up Augustus Pablo's King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, Lee Perry's Blackboard Jungle Dub, or one of the "Heavyweight" samplers from the Blood & Fire label.
I suppose the one minor criticism I'd make of the book is that the ending is much "cleaner" than I expected. Without spoiling anything, I will just say that I expected there to be some greater consequences or blowback than there proved to be. However, since this appears to be the launch of a new character and new series, it may be that Pelecanos is going to spend a little time building Spero's world up before heading down that road. A final warning: it's short, you can read it in about three hours, and it's going to leave you wanting more.