Sunday, April 18, 2004

Book: Hard Revolution, by George Pelecanos (2004)

I’m sure I’m alone in this, but Pelecanos’ music references get on my nerves. They tell me more about him than his characters. Whole chunks of his books read like they were written by Lester Bangs. But that’s just me, and just a minor complaint.

Pelecanos brings the historical sweep of his D.C. Quartet to bear on Derek Strange, one of the protagonists of his last cycle of novels. The book opens with a lengthy prologue in 1959 with Derek as a young man, then picks up the story in the spring of 1968. Derek is a rookie cop, Martin Luther King is days away from being assassinated, and D.C. is about to explode.

The book takes its time getting started, but there’s a reason for every detail that Pelecanos carefully layers in. The slow build-up soon gives way to masterful editing; even for Pelecanos, the book is blisteringly cinematic. His writing is simple. Sometimes it feels like he’s dotting every ‘i’: “Derek and Billy lived a few short miles apart, but the difference in their lives and prospects was striking.” Other times it reads like brutal poetry, as when a man is shot during a robbery: “He saw fire and his mother and nothing at all.”

To me, Terry Quinn was the more interesting character in the last few books. He was deeply conflicted, while Strange had his act together. (OK, he had trouble committing to one woman, but that’s not the same thing as cruising D.C. looking to be disrespected.) But I can see now that in the earlier works, Pelecanos was playing the silences of Strange’s character while here he plays the notes. Together, they form the full measure of a man.

Great. Now he’s got me making musical references, too.