According to these 16 new stories, life in the nation’s capital ranks with afterlife in the lower circles of hell.
You’d be hard-pressed to tell from the work gathered here that any money changes hands in Washington except at gunpoint, or that the contributors are familiar with any emotion other than the urge to live fast, die young and leave a bullet-ridden corpse. Robert Wisdom and Lester Irby provide snapshot retrospectives of abortive criminal careers. Kenji Jasper, Jim Beane and editor Pelecanos (Drama City, 2005, etc.) sketch doomed punks in over their heads. Underdogs get their chance to shine in entries from Quintin Peterson (a killer picks on the wrong witness), Ruben Castaneda (an unlikely band hunts a killer), Richard Currey (a liquor-store owner faces down the kids who vandalized his shop) and David Slater (a long-suffering burger cook sees his chance for a score). But Jennifer Howard’s stunned mother, who stumbles into entanglement with drug couriers, reacts with more characteristic despair. Ranging farther afield, Robert Andrews and Norman Kelley dramatize multiethnic gang rivalries, while James Grady and Jim Fusilli hook up Beltway politicians to the criminal corruption. In the two best stories, Jim Patton’s cop/bodyguard gets into trouble when his thuggish boss orders him to kill an inconvenient homicide witness, and Laura Lippman’s DC hostess displays real ingenuity in paying off her mortgage.
Mostly, though, the bleak carnival of street crime goes hand in hand with a worldview so deterministic you’d swear nothing could ever change.