Sunday, May 10, 2020

Michael Hudson Is Out of Prison and Moving Up Town in This Great Novel

This is another excellent novel from George Pelecanos, who's been spending a lot of time in recent years working in television and consequently writing fewer books. On the one hand, I've really admired his work on programs like "The Wire," "Treme," and "The Deuce," but I've really missed having new books from him on a more regular basis, particularly when they're as good as this one.

At the center of the book is a young man named Michael Hudson who is now in prison thanks to a stupid mistake, or perhaps a couple of them. (As a hint, it's probably a bad idea to borrow your mother's car for the purpose of committing an armed robbery.) In prison, though, Michael's life is changed dramatically when he's introduced to the world of reading by Anna, the young prison librarian.

A new world opens up to Michael through the books that Anna is giving him, and then suddenly and unexpectedly, he's freed from prison when the principal witness against him changes his testimony. This is thanks to the intervention of a private investigator named Phil Ornazian who is barely making ends meet with his regular job. But Ornazian is supplementing his income by ripping off criminals, principally pimps who are exploiting women, and naturally he's going to expect something in return for having secured Michael's freedom.

Determined to get his life on the right track, Michael takes a job washing dishes in a D.C. restaurant, but he continues to read in his spare time and dreams of slowly building his own library. But then Phil Ornazian shows up, insisting that Michael's marker is due. Ornazian wants Michael to be the wheelman in a robbery he's planning to commit and his demand forces Michael to make some very hard choices.

In addition to being a great character study and a very compelling story, this book is a testament to the joys and the redemptive power of reading, and through Anna and Michael, Pelecanos takes the time to sing the praises of some excellent novels. The book is a bit shorter than some of the author's earlier work and it's so addictive that you find yourself wishing that it could have been longer. Most of all, it leaves you hoping that Pelecanos will not wait nearly this long again before writing another.

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