Saturday, January 9, 2010

Right as Rain - Book Review

I've heard good things about George Pelecanos and I'd enjoyed his The Night Gardener, with some reservations, so I was looking forward to Right as Rain as the starting point of maybe working my way through his oeuvre. But while the novel has its strong points, overall, it turned out to be a disappointment.

A gritty crime novel about the gritty streets of Washington D.C., the novel tries to tie race relations to the crime central to the plot. (Derek Strange, a black private investigator, tries to get to the bottom of the shooting of a black off-duty police officer by Terry Quinn, a white, on-duty police officer. From this unlikely pairing will come two more novels featuring Strange and Quinn.) But the outcome is un-surprising. There's more, of course, than meets the eye to what lead up to the circumstances that caused the shooting but the bottom line conclusion of every one in the novel is that Quinn would not have shot if the victim had been white. Pelecanos fails to make the case for me. And when he has Strange unironically proclaim what he thinks is the solution to D.C.'s crime problem - drugs should be legalized and guns should be outlawed - well, we know this book more of a polemic for Pelecanos than it is a crime novel.

Pelecanos' style is lean and mean, like a good crime novelist's style should be, and the bad guys are very bad, making their eventual comeuppance supremely satisfying. (Oh, and did I mention the baddest of the bad guys are racist, too? Yep. So more boos and hisses for them.) But the strain begins to show towards the end of the book as Pelecanos is reaching for the finish line. And though the style is spare, would it kill him to at least give us a time of when some of the action is occurring. Several times I was puzzled to learn that some things were happening in the day time when, in fact, it was night, and vice versa.

Despite this book's flaws, I'll give Pelecanos another chance. But I don't see the need to finish out the other two books in this series. That's too bad.

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