Posted: February 2, 2010 in Uncategorized


These weeks do seem to rush round, and it is time again for a contribution to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme being hosted at Kerrie’s Mysteries in Paradise.

We have reached the letter P for Pelecanos, George Pelecanos.

From author information in The Turnaround:
George Pelecanos was born in Washington, DC in 1957. He worked as a line cook, dishwasher, bartender, shoe salesman, electronics salesman, construction worker, and retail genera manager before publishing his first novel in 1992. He is the author of 15 [now 16 novels] set in and around Washington DC.
Pelecanos served as producer on several feature films, and is writer and producer on the acclaimed HBO series The Wire for which he was nominated for an Emmy.

I had not read any Pelecanos for several years, and had collected quite a number on my TBR pile so approaching the letter P seemed an ideal opportunity to pick up The Turnaround, and sample something by this writer.

It is a hot summer afternoon in 1972. Billy, Pete and Alex Pappas, three white teenagers drive a car into Heathrow Heights, an African American neighbourhood of Washington DC, to “raise a little hell.” They throw a cherry pie towards a group of young African Americans, including the brothers James and Raymond Monroe and the scar-faced Charles Baker.
The pie glances off Charles as Billy shouts an abusive comment, including the n-word.
As the white boys attempt to drive off down the road they make a discovery.

“It’s a turnaround,” said Alex, as if in wonder.
“The hell it is, ” said Billy. “It’s a dead end.”

They now have to drive back through a growing angry crowd of young men and the ‘incident’ that follows will be a defining moment in all their lives.

The Turnaround is a superb novel in which Pelecanos introduces us to the characters and their world, describes the ‘incident’, and then briskly moves us on thirty five years to gradually learn what has happened in the intervening years. The search for redemption and retribution clash as we are taken to an endgame that inevitably involves violence, has a twist in the tale, and also a search for the American dream.

“The best crew I’ve ever had. Look, you don’t make this possible and neither do I. The help does. You gotta take care of ’em, John……….. you’ve always got to take care of the help.”

Some of the best advice ever given on running any business and you get it for free in a crime fiction thriller.

“What did you see in his eyes?”
“I saw good.”
‘Why, Raymond? Why would you seek him out?”
“I had to,” said Monroe.

This is a brilliant, thought provoking novel and I shall be reading more George Pelecanos over the next few months. No wonder The Wire was so good.
I am also entering this novel as part one of my North American leg of Dorte’s Global challenge 2010.
  1. >Norman – Thanks for this excellent choice! Two things about this novel (besides your fine review of it) have put it right away on my TBR list. One is that it connects past and present. I do enjoy novels that do that : ). The other is that it it's got a twist. I must now acquire this book.

  2. Maxine says:

    >Thanks for your review of this book, Norman. I am looking out for another Pelecanos to read – I read one years ago and found it rather dense. As he is a demigod in many (mainly US) crime fiction circles I thought I should really try him again – and Ben (Material Witness) recommended one of his later novels (eg the one that is currently the TV book club selection). Your review makes this one sound rather compelling! I must admit I did not "get" The Wire after recently seeing the first series as I just could not be doing with all those endless ghastly drug dealers, I just found them all so unsympathetic and the circumstances of the poverty, vice and awfulness just too much. But I've now seen series 2 and 3 and am totally mesmerised – brilliant!

  3. >Thanks, Margot. No spoilers about the twist from me. ;o)Maxine, this book is quite short less than 300 pages long but packs a lot in. I agree The Wire was difficult to get into because of all the characters and difficulty with the accents and slang, but developed for me into a must watch series. Is the TV book club selection The Way Home, which I got as a Christmas present from daughter and granddaughter and so must be read soon?

  4. Kerrie says:

    >Now here is an author that I've never read Norman. Thanks for the recommendation and for the contribution to Crime Fiction Alphabet

  5. >You might just have tipped me over the edge Norman. I've never read a George Pelacanos novel despite hearing so many good things. I wateched the first 3 or 4 episodes of the first season of The Wire and hated it so I never went back and never bothered to read Pelacanos because I assumed he just wouldn't be to my taste. But perhaps I'll give him a go after all.

  6. >Thanks Kerrie.Bernadette, there is an essay on the writing life at the end of The Turnaround, which makes him seem a very down to earth ordinary person. In the essay he talks about his teenage years consisting of baseball, beer, girls, marijuana, pick up basketball, Marlboros, rock concerts, and stock-boy positions at now closed retailers, as well as a Greek-American work ethic. The novel is a very American story and perhaps not to everyone's taste, moving as it does between the expressions of emotion, and extreme violence.

  7. Maxine says:

    >Bernadette, I had the same reaction as you to the first few episodes of The Wire but I persevered (being a skinflint – I had bought the first 2 series on special offer so could not bear not getting my money's worth). I am so glad I persevered, it is really fantastic. Based on what I know of you, I bet you would like it too.Norman – one thing about the wire is that although you (I) can't understand what anyone is saying or on about, it doesn't matter because the plots are actually very simple indeed. A brilliant concept – incomprehensible but simple. So all can follow it ;-)The Pelecanos you were given for xmas is the one Ben has recommended and reviewed over at Material Witness if you want to check it out.

  8. >Thanks Maxine. I am reading the Donna Leon you kindly sent me, because I have so much on my mind at the moment I need comfort reading. I am so familiar with Leon and her characters that I don't have to concentrate as much as something new. The Brunetti plots are fairly simple as well and as you have reasoned that could be the reason for the critical success of The Wire.

  9. >Thanks Maxine. I am reading the Donna Leon you kindly sent me, because I have so much on my mind at the moment I need comfort reading. I am so familiar with Leon and her characters that I don't have to concentrate as much as something new. The Brunetti plots are fairly simple as well and as you have reasoned that could be the reason for the critical success of The Wire.

  10. Anonymous says:

    >George Pelecanos is my favorite writer and I'm still working on reading all of his books. Can't wait for The Cut to come out.

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