A drive-by shooting that ordinarily wouldn’t even rate the front page of the Washington Post Metro section pits p.i. Derek Strange (Right as Rain, 2001) against a city full of men behaving badly.
Lorenze Wilder owes gangbanger Garfield Potter less than $100, but Potter can’t be seen to let this one slide or everybody in town will be on him. So he gathers up his closest associates, Carlton Little and Charles White (whose fighting dog Potter’s already shot by way of warm-up), and goes out hunting Wilder. Inevitably, of course, he finds him—together with his sister’s eight-year-old son Joe. The death of the boy along with that of his uncle pulls Strange into the case not only because he’s been coaching Joe’s football team—part of a frantic citywide effort to keep kids from drifting out onto the murderous streets—but because he soon has a paying client: celebrated druglord Granville Oliver, who has reasons of his own for wanting the killers found. The shooting of an innocent child and the reward the cops are offering insure that some snitch hungry for his next fix will soon give up Potter and Co., but Oliver doesn’t want them to get arrested and do time under the District’s no-death-penalty law; he wants to make sure the problem has been taken care of for keeps. His new client is just one more way Strange and his ex-cop friend Terry Quinn—whose attempts to help round up a runaway teenager now turning tricks leads him into the dark heart of one of the hundred hellish neighborhoods Pelecanos knows the way you know the road home—are torn between compassion and dreams of violent revenge.
Despite all the scenes illustrating the hopelessness of growing up in the nation’s capital, the author’s ardent muckraking makes his tenth novel his most hopeful, even though it takes the edge off his trademark grasp of urban evil.