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.
As druglord Granville Oliver awaits trial for the crimes against humanity he committed in Pelecanos’s last round (Hell to Pay, 2002), Derek Strange, the private eye working for his lawyer, gets the idea of discrediting Philip Wood, the Judas lieutenant who’s testifying against him, by deposing Wood’s ex-girlfriend, hairdresser Devra Stokes, who filed a brutality complaint against him but then didn’t press charges. Meantime, Strange’s partner, Irish ex-cop Terry Quinn, is looking for Olivia Elliot, the missing girlfriend of Mario Durham, a criminal so ineffectual that he’s completely under the thumb of his kid brother Dewayne, head of the notorious Six-hundred Crew in Washington Highlands. Terry doesn’t believe Mario’s hearts-and-flowers tale about Olivia, who’s actually split with his drugs, but he does believe his $100, and in no time at all he finds her, with unhappy results for all. More complications pop up like ducks in a shooting gallery—Terry’s girlfriend, shamus Sue Terry, seeks Linda Welles, still another missing teenager; rival dealer Horace McKinley decides to move in on Dewayne’s turf; gun seller Ulysses Foreman finds to his dismay that the gun he’d rented out for only a few days has been linked to two homicides; Strange meets Nick Stefanos, the p.i. from Pelecanos’s earlier books (Shame the Devil, 2000, etc.)—but individual plots and people must struggle to assert themselves against the duck-and-cover hell that Strange, who can’t believe his luck in having a stable household to go home to, finds around every street corner in contemporary D.C.
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.