As producer and a writer for HBO’s cops and drug dealers drama The Wire, George Pelecanos managed to take what could have been yet another paint-by-numbers police show (pretty much everything since Law & Order) and helped turn it into one of the most talked about series to come on TV since The Sopranos (fans still look on with a mix of superiority and disgust when they come across someone who admits to not having seen the show). It should come as no surprised then that his foray into fiction is every bit as intriguing.
Set in the early 70’s, What It Was, Pelecanos’ fifteenth or so crime novel, brings back Derek Strange, one of the author’s best-known character. A former Vietnam vet and ex-Maryland cop, Strange is a private investigator living in D.C. The author also brings back Frank “Hound Dog” Vaughn, an old contact from Strange’s police days and his sometime conspirator. Strange’s latest case focuses in on tracking down a missing ring that brings him in contact with a couple of thugs more concerned with quickly building up a legend for violence and brazen crimes rather than staying alive.
Like his other efforts, Pelecanos’ keen focus on seemingly superfluous details (songs on the radio, the make of the cars his characters drive) all help add to the appeal of his works. Another great read from one of the most reliable in the genre.
What It Was by George Pelecanos/paperback/272 pages/ Reagan Arthur-Back Bay Books/2012