Monday, August 23, 2010

Another Winner from George Pelecanos

"The Big Blowdown" is one of George Pelecanos's earlier books (1996), which explores the lives of a number of boys, descendants of Greek and Italian immigrants, who are friends during the depression years of the 1930s and who then grow into adulthood. Most of the book takes place in the post-war years as these men, now young adults, search for their places in the world.

Some of them, of course, make better choices than others. Two of the principal characters, Pete Karras and Joe Recevo come home from World War II and turn to organized crime. But Pete doesn't have the heart to be a shakedown artist picking on poor immigrants and he is brutally separated from the mob and from his friend Joe. Several years later, Pete and Joe cross paths again when the mob attempts to move in on the restaurant where Pete is working and the results will be explosive.

Along the way, Pete also befriends a young kid who has come to the city searching for his sister who has turned to prostitution to support a heroin habit, and this gives some meaning and purpose to a life that Pete feels he has largely wasted. Finally, running through much of the book is a series of prostitute killings that bedevils another of Pete's boyhood friends, policeman Jimmy Boyle. All of these threads are woven together to produce a stunning climax.

Like virtually all of Pelecanos's books, this one is set in Washington D.C. and provides a vivid portrayal of the city at a certain point in time. Like all of Pelecanos's books, this one is also infused with sex, violence and with the music of the era. The book begins a bit slowly as Pelecanos introduces the characters, but once it gets rolling, it's hard to put it down. All of the characters are expertly drawn and they are placed in perfectly believable settings. This is another winner from a very gifted writer.

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