Books by George Pelecanos

George Pelecanos is a screenwriter, independent-film producer, award-winning journalist, and the author of the bestselling series of Derek Strange novels set in and around Washington, D.C., where he lives with his wife and children.

THE MAN WHO CAME UPTOWN by George Pelecanos
Released: Sept. 4, 2018

"Using his customary knowing dialogue and stripped-down, soulful prose, Pelecanos skillfully, sensitively works the urban frontier where the problems and stresses of everyday life cross the line into the sort of criminal behavior that could tempt anyone—anyone at all."
Pelecanos (The Martini Shot, 2015, etc.) follows the trails of three nominally free agents drawn together by the matrix of the D.C. jail. Read full book review >
THE MARTINI SHOT by George Pelecanos
Released: Jan. 6, 2015

"The other stories all strike sparks as reminiscences of troubled youth recalled from the perspective of adult experience—or from beyond the grave."
Seven stories and a novella from the undisputed king of D.C. noir. Read full book review >
THE DOUBLE by George Pelecanos
Released: Oct. 1, 2013

"Cult favorite Pelecanos deserves an even wider readership."
The second in a series featuring a new investigator represents an update for the veteran mystery novelist. Read full book review >
THE CUT by George Pelecanos
Released: Aug. 29, 2011

"Another tough, heart-rending odyssey through a war zone in which every denizen has the potential to be both hero and villain."
Pelecanos' newest hero walks the mean streets of the Nation's Capital with all the piercing hopes and fears and personal baggage of the others (The Way Home, 2009, etc.). Read full book review >
THE WAY HOME by George Pelecanos
Released: May 12, 2009

"Redemption the hard way, well-crafted and deeply felt."
A crime novel, yes, but the talented Pelecanos (The Turnaround, 2008, etc.) shoves it out of its comfort zone. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 8, 2008

"An eminently worthwhile collection, though perhaps not for those prone to Weltschmerz."
The 12th annual edition of this anthology, whose general editor is Otto Penzler, collects 20 blue-ribbon entries, all dressed up in impeccable noir. Read full book review >
THE TURNAROUND by George Pelecanos
Released: Aug. 1, 2008

"Like his kindred spirits who have also written scripts for HBO's The Wire, Pelecanos deserves the sort of popular breakthrough that Richard Price and Dennis Lehane have enjoyed."
Once again using the ethnic neighborhoods of Washington, D.C., to explore issues of class and race, and the possibility of bridging those gulfs, Pelecanos (The Night Gardener, 2006, etc.) constructs a taut narrative in which the past exerts a seismic pull on the present. Read full book review >
THE NIGHT GARDENER by George Pelecanos
Released: Aug. 8, 2006

"The best American comparison, in fact, is James Lee Burke, who also keeps writing the same churning book over and over and clearly hates to come to the last page just as much as Pelecanos."
You can take Pelecanos out of his two DC series starring Nick Stefanos (Shame the Devil, 2000, etc.) and Derek Strange (Hard Revolution, 2004, etc.), but you can't take the impulse to turn District crime into a serial epic out of Pelecanos. Read full book review >
D.C. NOIR by George Pelecanos
Released: Feb. 1, 2006

"Mostly, though, the bleak carnival of street crime goes hand in hand with a worldview so deterministic you'd swear nothing could ever change."
According to these 16 new stories, life in the nation's capital ranks with afterlife in the lower circles of hell. Read full book review >
DRAMA CITY by George Pelecanos
Released: March 22, 2005

"The dog-eat-dog metaphor, borrowed perhaps from the film Amores Perros, provides a brutal, tender new way for Pelecanos to get at his great subject: the miraculous survival of lilies among the toxic weeds of the Nation's Capital. "
Pelecanos takes a break from the continuing sagas of DC cop Derek Strange (Hard Revolution, 2003, etc.) and DC private eye Nick Stefanos (Shame the Devil, 2000, etc.) for an equally unsparing stand-alone tale of two cops who aren't quite cops. Read full book review >
HARD REVOLUTION by George Pelecanos
Released: March 9, 2004

"The most conventionally ambitious of Pelecanos's sprawling studies of D.C. crime: pat in its sociological determinism, harrowing in its portraits of each hopeless loser and the few ex-losers who escape."
Pelecanos's latest Extra Dark slice of Washington street crime leaps back a generation to connect the backstory of private eye Derek Strange (Soul Circus, 2003, etc.) to the murder of Martin Luther King. Read full book review >
SOUL CIRCUS by George Pelecanos
Released: March 4, 2003

"The bleak, powerful fadeout reserves resolution mostly for the dead; the living will clearly have to take their chances in whatever blistering sequel their talented creator has planned."
It's official: Pelecanos's latest dispatch from the trenches of the nation's capital shows his prodigious ambition overflowing the bounds of one novel into a torrential epic of cops and robbers. Read full book review >
HELL TO PAY by George Pelecanos
Released: Feb. 27, 2002

"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."
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. Read full book review >
RIGHT AS RAIN by George Pelecanos
Released: Feb. 6, 2001

Pelecanos's eighth novel packs his niftiest premise yet: Two ex-D.C. cops, one turned p.i. and the other sidelined after shooting a brother officer, join forces to clear the victim's name. Read full book review >
SHAME THE DEVIL by George Pelecanos
Released: Jan. 11, 2000

After a three-book hiatus, Nick Stefanos rejoins the Pelecanos repertory company (The Sweet Forever, 1998, etc.) and delivers another bravura performance. Colorful, often violent, always passionate, it's a remarkable group that Pelecanos has assembled for his saga of the seamy side of Washington, D.C., and over the course of seven novels his players have never failed to entertain. The curtain rises, this time out, on a routine robbery that goes horribly wrong, leaving five dead before it's over. Among these is Dmitri Karras's young son, and the effect on the elder Karras is predictably devastating: —I know now,— he tells his former business partner Marcus Clay, —there's two kinds of people in the world: those who—ve lost a child and those who haven—t.— Three years after the fact, he's still defined by his despair. Divorced, zombie-like, he's a source of increasing worry to his friends. One of them contacts Nick Stefanos in the hope he can hook Dmitri up with a job at the Spot, the watering hole where Nick patrols the bar when he isn—t doing PI gigs. Object: occupational therapy, a last-ditch attempt to give Dmitri a reason for living that might transcend his obsessive desire to kill the killer of his son. And it works. Little by little, Dmitri begins to reassemble the pieces of a life. Then, almost accidentally, Nick stumbles on a clue he doesn—t really want to find because it will lead to a place he doesn—t want to go. Or rather, a place he doesn—t want Dmitri to go, which is into the path of the murderer he's been hunting—a cold-blooded sociopath with his own all-consuming need for revenge. Vivid storytelling by a writer whose sense of the theatrical is a formidable strength and whose reputation lags way behind his talent. Read full book review >
THE SWEET FOREVER by George Pelecanos
Released: Aug. 3, 1998

Marcus Clay and Dimitri Karras want very much to mind their own business, but that's not the way their karmas crumble, as Pelecanos makes clear in this rousing, raunchy sequel to King Suckerman (1997). The business these two friends want to mind is a small but growing retail record operation—four stores in and around Washington, D.C (actually, it's Clay's business, and Karras, still flush with a legacy from his mother, is content to work for his longtime friend). It's the in-town store that's giving them headaches. Located at the epicenter of D.C.'s cocaine ghetto, it looks out onto a vista fraught with mean-street nastiness, some of which is downright dangerous even just to witness. On a blustery winter night, a case in point involves the pilfering of a pillowcase full of money scheduled for delivery to Tyrell Cleveland, the area's CEO of drug enterprises. This multitalented leader of the new hedonists is as heartless as he is entrepreneurial. To mess with him is to invite serious hurt, leading as often as not to shortness of life, terms of doing business that conditions Clay and Karras can accept as sufficient deterrent to their getting involved. On the other hand, two 12-year-old kids have just been gunned down by Cleveland cohorts, and neither Clay nor Karras can happily accept that—doing so is neither in their genes nor in those bothersome karmas, and so the stage is set for show-downs and shoot-outs. You can see them coming a mile away, but it's terrifically satisfying to watch how it all works out. A cast—mostly black—that's treated painstakingly, so even the bad guys have dimension and believability (the good guys have character and dignity). Still, the violence-averse should probably give a pass to this otherwise almost compulsively readable entertainer. Read full book review >
KING SUCKERMAN by George Pelecanos
Released: Aug. 11, 1997

A routine drug deal goes bad on the eve of Washington's bicentennial festivities, decimating Pelecanos's big, juicy cast. One minute, big-talking dealer Eddie Marchetti and his executive assistant, Clarence Tate, are setting up a peaceful buy for visiting ex-con Wilton Cooper and his buddies; the next minute, Dimitri Karras and Marcus Clay, who've come to score some dope, have slightly overreacted to an insulting remark Eddie made to his stoned-out girlfriend Vivian Lee. The next thing you know, Dimitri and Marcus are backing out the door with Vivian and with $20,000 that isn't theirs. Eddie, who calls himself "Eddie Spags" and tries to talk like Superfly, is too gutless to do anything but goggle. But Cooper swings into action as swiftly as Dimitri and Marcus shut down his deal in the first place. Backed up by half-wit brothers Ronald and Russell Thomas and by Bobby Roy Clagget, a kid who'd rather shoot than get involved in a lot of talking, Cooper tracks his prey to their homes (a memorable high-wire scene between Cooper, polite as pie, and Dimitri's mother) and places of business (a predictable shoot-up at Marcus's record store). It's all for the money, of course—only it isn't: Dimitri and Marcus, who know they've made a big mistake, would love to find a safe way to offload the loot, and imperturbable Cooper isn't nearly as interested in recovering the coin—he insists he's only a broker on Eddie's behalf—as in exterminating the upstarts. Pelecanos keeps up the tension with constant collisions over race, sex, and what passes for honor, as the characters hurtle toward a climactic Fourth of July confrontation that reads like a downscale urban remake of The Wild Bunch. Now that he's gotten rid of the outsized heroes of The Big Blowdown (1996), Pelecanos can concentrate on what he does best: showing lowlifes at work, bragging, sweating, killing. As Eddie Spags would say, this book smokes. Read full book review >
THE BIG BLOWDOWN by George Pelecanos
Released: May 28, 1996

Pelecanos follows four mysteries—three about D.C. appliance salesman/barman Nick Stefanos (Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go, 1995, etc.)—with this crossover prequel showing the warmly seamy side of Nick's Grill back in 1949. Though Nick's Grill provides the turf his heroes can battle over, Nick himself takes a backseat to three even scrappier types. There's Joe Recevo, a bagman for a suave, brutal boss named Burke (a Richard Conte role). There's Peter Karras, Recevo's childhood friend, who followed him into Burke's gang but got carried out on Burke-crippled legs when he drew the line at shaking down an old friend of Karras's hated father. And there's Michael Florek, an innocent who's climbed down from the Pennsylvania hills in search of his sister Lola, a hophead whore now spreading her legs in the nation's capital as a nightmare john stalks the fringes of the story cutting up prostitutes- -without causing Karras's friend Jimmy Boyle, a D.C. cop so hot for his gold shield that he's getting hooked on uppers, a single sleepless night. Pelecanos fills his bars with hot, smoky music and his streets with colorful lowlifes, but he lingers so lovingly over the tough childhood memories Karras and Recevo share, their wartime traumas, and their present affairs—even though Karras is respectably married to his first love, he can't keep his hands off census taker Vera Gardner, who worries all the time about the Bomb—that you can tell early on where this story is heading: toward a showdown over Nick's, when Burke picks his place to lead the block in paying protection money, and Nick digs in his heels, and Karras and Recevo face off one last time. A workmanlike, atmospheric retro noir—Once Upon a Time in America meets The Big Combo. If it's not quite as original or resonant as the Big Book Pelecanos seems to have had in mind, you'll still find yourself feeling everything you're supposed to about the familiar demi-heroic types and their grim postwar world. Read full book review >
Released: June 22, 1995

Pelecanos returns from the striking Shoedog (1994) to the saga of D.C. barman and sometime shamus Nick Stefanos. This time, Nick wakes up from an overnight drunk to find that he's sharing riverbank space with late teen Calvin Jeter, and decides that he just can't leave the case to the uninterested Metropolitan Police. Passing himself off as "assisting" the cops, Nick questions Calvin's family and friends, ties him and his missing pal, Roland Lewis, in to drugs and man-boy porn, then joins Jack LaDuke, a p.i. who's new to the cityand, evidently, to eating with knives and forksto run down the responsible parties. Nick and his incomparably seamy milieu, in their third outing (Nick's Trip, 1993, etc.), get an A, though the case is the sort of five-finger exercise usually associated with tired old pros resting up between their big events. Read full book review >
SHOEDOG by George Pelecanos
Released: May 15, 1994

Constantine, a drifter who's been too many places to care about anything that won't fit into his backpack, hitches a ride into trouble when Polk, the old man who picks him up outside DC, stops off, and gets turned down, for the $20,000 in dirty money his Korean War buddy Grimes owes him. Instead, Grimes enlists Polk and Constantine for another score: a pair of liquor-store heists that'll bring in enough for all three of them and the five other guys on the job. Within the hour, Constantine has casually seduced Grimes's classy girlfriend, Delia, and you probably don't need to finish this sentence. Don't skip a page of the book, though, or you'll miss a canny portrait of the shoe salesman (a stripped-clown echo of Nick Stefanos in A Firing Offense, 1992, and Nick's Trip, 1993) who teaches Constantine about Life, or a late-blooming noir retrospect that's so dead-eyed that the sentiment takes on a comic edge. More fun than a Late Show marathon—starting with The Asphalt Jungle. Read full book review >
NICK'S TRIP by George Pelecanos
Released: March 22, 1993

Two cases for D.C. shamus Nick Stefanos, who's left his job at Nutty Nathan's (A Firing Offense, 1992) to patrol the bar at the Spot. First, his high-school friend Billy Goodrich walks in and asks him to find his wife April, who he says skedaddled with small-time crime boss Joey DiGeordano. Wrong: April actually rode off into the southern Maryland sunset with hog farmer/bondage freak Tommy Crane and, it turns out, with $200,000 of DiGeordano family money. In between boozy car trips with Billy, present and remembered, Nick finds time to reopen the murder of William Henry, his reporter friend killed because he was learning too much about a trio of pizza kings—and to impregnate his lesbian friend Jackie Kahn, who's decided it's time for a baby. Pelecanos's retake on The Long Goodbye requires Nick to shed the snakelike charm he showed in his debut in favor of a more modish lament for things past, and the split between separate cases doesn't make the book any stronger. But there are still some great scenes, great people, and great background music. Read full book review >
A FIRING OFFENSE by George Pelecanos
Released: April 1, 1992

Meet Nick Stefanos, hard-drinking, heavy-metal-loving D.C. appliance salesman who talks so much like a private eye that stockboy Jimmy Broda's grandfather insists that he find the missing boy, who was fired after he stopped showing up for work—and who was last seen with novice druggie Eddie "Redman" Shultz and dangerously experienced Kim Lazarus. Despite Nick's marathon sessions with drink, drugs, and women, the seamiest stuff goes down on the retail floor of Nutty Nathan's, a milieu that Pelecanos limns with such tell-all relish that it's obvious Jimmy's troubles stem from his job—and it's a shame (though no surprise) that, by the time this loosely plotted tale has run its course, Nick has left retail for the comparatively wholesome world of the professional shamus. Nick's as robust as his mystery is anemic. This debut is promising—but better wait for Pelecanos to throw better stuff. Read full book review >