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.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fools Rush In

Ed Gorman's long-running series featuring Sam McCain, a somewhat naive, small town Iowa attorney and sometime private detective, has now advanced to 1963. In the South, the civil rights crusade is gathering momentum and in Black River Falls, Iowa, a black student named David Leeds has created a furor by dating the daughter of a white Republican Senator.

When Leeds is found murdered along with a white photographer, there is no shortage of suspects. Any number of Iowans, including the Senator who is running for re-election, were furious with Leeds. The bumbling police chief hasn't a clue and so McCain enters the fray. Sam is forced to mix it up with smarmy politicians, outlaw bikers, and the unsavory brothers of the blackmailing photographer. On the bright side though, the new female district attorney is bright, beautiful, and attracted to McCain.

Despite the violence, this is a gentle, nostalgic series that attempts to recapture the mood of an earlier, less complicated era. Even though we are now in the increasingly turbulent sixties, McCain is still the same innocent likable guy he was in The Day the Music Died, the series debut from 1999. McCain's caught up in the music and the culture of the age, and his love life reflects the standards of a different era. It's fun to watch him investigate the crime, even though it's hard to take his "investigation" all that seriously. But the real pleasure in reading these books comes from the era that they evoke.