A crime novel, yes, but the talented Pelecanos (The Turnaround, 2008, etc.) shoves it out of its comfort zone.
He needn’t worry, 17 year old Chris Flynn brashly assures his father as the door of Pine Ridge Reformatory is about to shut behind him: “I know how to jail.” How did Chris get there, decently brought up kid that he is—loving parents, solid middle-class home? He has no idea. Oh, he can talk about “Good Chris, Bad Chris,” but that riff no longer satisfies the way it once did. All he knows for sure is that Bad Chris brought him within an inch of killing someone during a wild, drug-filled night that ended with a string of exasperated D.C. cops running him down. Thus his sentence to Pine Ridge, leaving a frustrated father and a heartbroken mother wondering where they went wrong. Unexpectedly, however, Pine Ridge proves to be a way of starting over. Bleak and dehumanizing though it is, Chris grows up there, copes with adversity, makes better friends, keeps Bad Chris caged. Ten years later, he’s put a life together. He has a worthwhile girlfriend. His always thorny relationship with his father is at least manageable. Lulled, he thinks the past is safely buried. But when a pair of killers show up claiming he has something that belongs to them, Chris learns how inexorably the past is prologue.
Redemption the hard way, well-crafted and deeply felt.