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.
Outraged at the official account of the incident—that Officer Terry Quinn fired on Officer Christopher Wilson when Wilson, holding his piece on a man suspected of no more heinous crime than public urination, turned the gun on Quinn—Wilson’s mother has hired African-American shamus Derek Strange to find out what really went down on the dark street where her son died. It’s hard to find anything to contradict the official story. Quinn, his partner, Eugene Franklin, and Wilson’s would-be victim, restaurant worker Ricky Kane, all tell the same story: Wilson was in plain clothes, never identified himself as a cop, and seemed to go kill-crazy when the uniforms arrived on the scene. And Quinn, stung by Strange’s accusation that he wouldn’t have shot a white man holding a gun on a black man, confounds Strange still further by asking to ride along with him on his investigation. As they’re making the rounds of Pelecanos’s trademark Washington fleshpots, from seedy gentlemen’s clubs to scarred crack houses, an even darker plot is brewing. Earl Boone and his son Ray, a pair of cracker drug mules who’d be too dumb to breathe if they weren’t stoked on their own product, suddenly take it upon themselves to cut through the layers of bureaucracy surrounding their operation, preparing for a memorable confrontation with their biggest client, street supplier Cherokee Coleman, and his well-armed goons.
Pelecanos (Shame the Devil, 2000, etc.) keeps the relations between his unlikely detective pair, the legion of thugs and users that crowd their every move, and the racial cloud over the Nation’s Capital miraculously clear. The result—an East Coast L.A. Confidential without the mannered prose—looks like a breakout at last for its talented author.