Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Flashback; Drama City

By Jay Stringer

Okay, this is like the mid season clip show. I do apologise but it's been a pretty intense week with a few family issues. I hope the flash piece yesterday makes up for today's quickie! There are a few interesting things in the coming weeks, the Scott Phillips interview will soon be ready to roll and i think i may have a thing or to to say about that McFet fella's work. I'll be back fighting fit next week. Until then, here's a flashback to one of my older blogs, and my first experience of George Pelecanos.

Why have I not read George Pelecanos until now?

The only real answer can be idiocy. I’ve had many people tell me to give him a try over the years.In all honesty, I think I wrote him off for no real reason. I worked as the crime buyer in a bookshop where reps were forever trying to convince me that the book they had in their hands was the next great opus. I was first told to read him at the same time as I was told to read a few other crime writers that the publishers were starting to push. Unfair to name names, but I didn’t enjoy the ones that I read, and so Pelecanos probably got written off as being part of that list. I’m not saying that was the right attitude, and I hope I would not get that treatment when my work sees print, but those kind of judgements do get made.

Anyway, long story short;
I love THE WIRE, he seemed like one of the shows best writers, so I decided to go back and give him a go.


FUCKING HELL. Now, it’s clear there is a relation between this book and season three of THE WIRE. They exist almost as companion pieces, as the research from one must have informed the other. The themes being explored are the same, and you can almost see the characters as the same people.

Lorenzo Brown is a convict, fresh out of prison. The only life he’s ever known in the gangs, the drug trade, and the code of violence that comes with it. He’s got a second chance and he’s doing his best to hold on to it with both hands. It’s never easy though; his old life gave flash cars, money, status and drugs. His new life gives him few possessions, a small apartment, an adopted dog and the chance of a romance with a single mother.

The other main character is Rachel Lopez; Brown’s parole officer who has her own bag full of issues. If Lorenzo is on his second chance, Rachel is sleepwalking through her first. Visiting convicts by day, and knowing that some of them are not going to make it in the ‘straight’ world, and drinking herself into other peoples oblivions by night.

There are a lot of finely drawn supporting characters, on both sides of the law. With very few words, Pelecanos has the ability to make a character real. This is not so much a thriller, or a crime novel, as an exploration of a failed system. As with so much of the fiction that resonates with me these days, it shows that everybody, in all walks of life, is compromised by their own status in society, and by the system they work for.

It’s a book that shows people making decisions, struggling against a system that was not designed with them in mind. There’s a huge emotional connection between the reader and the characters, at least there was for me, and you can feel the weight of the decisions they make, you feel nervous for their fates even when you can see them coming. You want them to make the right choices.

It’s an old tired argument, one I won’t trot out in detail here, but crime fiction at its best is far more important than any genre labels you can give it. It examines society from the points of view of those who have the most to lose or gain, and those who have the least of either. It’s art that pretends to be pure entertainment. Hell, Charles Dickens was simply a great crime writer.

So I finally gave Pelecanos a try, and feel very stupid for waiting so long. I need to catch up, and fast.


Paul D Brazill said...

I OD on Pelecanos around the time King Suckerman was released in the late 90's. Read everything and loved most of what I read. Then I'd had enough. About 3 years ago I read Drama City and loved it.

Dana King said...

I probably appreciate Pelecanos more than I enjoy him. I see what he's doing, and I know it's good, but I don't get the same sense of loving to read him as I do for some others. (I'm like that with Ross Macdonald, too.)

I've read his web site word for word, loved his work on THE WIRE, and have seen him speak and enjoyed it greatly. The books are starting to grow on me; THE NIGHT GARDENER is on the TBR pile. Looks like DRAMA CITY ought to go there, too.

David Cranmer said...

Read just one paragraph of Pelecanos and you're hooked.

Mike Dennis said...

Great post, Jay. I especially liked your comment at the end about how crime fiction at its best surpasses any genre label, springing from the point of view of those who have the most to gain or lose.

One of the greatest films noir of all time, "Detour", fits your description to a T, I believe. Even more so when you consider that there was not a single crime committed during the entire movie.