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.
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