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Soul Circus Hardcover – March, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

George Pelecanos's Washington, D.C., is a place rife with high-living drug dealers, easily obtained guns, and a generation depleted by ignorance, excessive machismo, and misplaced trust in the equalizing power of violence. Yet PI Derek Strange "did love D.C.," as Pelecanos acknowledges in Soul Circus, his third novel (after Right as Rain and Hell to Pay) to feature this mid-50s black detective and his younger white partner, Terry Quinn. Strange's optimism may be running at even higher gear than normal here, following his marriage to his longtime secretary, Janine Baker, and his determination to be a good stepfather to her son.

Picking up where Hell to Pay left off, we find Strange working in Soul Circus on behalf of Granville Oliver, a manipulative black mobster charged with murder and racketeering, who faces the death penalty. To help his client knock that sentence down to life imprisonment, Strange will have to find a nail salon worker named Devra Stokes, who used to be the girlfriend of Phillip Wood, a former associate of Oliver's and now the prosecution's chief witness against him. Stokes had sworn out an abuse complaint against Wood, and might testify that he was behind at least one of the killings Oliver is said to have planned. But, fearing for her own safety and that of her young son, she wants no part of Oliver's defense. Meanwhile, Quinn--against his better judgment--helps a homely, unpredictable gangsta-wannabe, Mario "Twigs" Durham, locate his girlfriend, who supposedly went missing, but in fact skipped out with his drug stash. Even as the threads of this yarn come together amid a deadly gang conflict, Pelecanos stays focused on his characters--not only his intriguingly troubled sleuths, but also a deftly nuanced cop-turned-gun dealer, Ulysses Foreman. Buttressed by Pelecanos's street-slangy prose, Soul Circus delivers an un-blindered perspective on urban life (and death) that manages to be both frightening and hopeful. Not so unlike the city in which it's set. --J. Kingston Pierce

From Publishers Weekly

PI Derek Strange continues to prowl the South East quadrant of Washington, D.C., in Pelecanos's 11th novel (after Hell to Pay), which caroms madly and brilliantly between warring drug crews, opportunistic gun dealers and intimidated witnesses. Strange is hired by lawyers defending Granville Oliver, a murderous high-profile drug dealer now headed for death row. Strange has to locate a reliable witness who could earn Granville a commutation to life in prison. His best bet is Devra Stokes, the former girlfriend of Philip Wood, a deputy drug dealer who had worked under Oliver and testified against his boss. Stokes filed a brutality complaint against Wood, and Strange might be able to cast doubt on Wood's credibility, if he can only find the disgruntled ex-girlfriend. Strange is growing weary of the dejection in this neighborhood, of fatherless black boys who become gullible thugs who go on to orphan another generation. But the real crime, Pelecanos suggests, is the ready supply of firearms ("Simple as buying a carton of milk. And you didn't even need big money to do it... the community could chip in to buy one. What they called a neighborhood gun"). These guns, Pelecanos reminds us, are wielded by little more than children who want to impress their friends. Dewayne and Mario Durham, teenaged brothers trying to work their way up the ladder of thugdom, are prime examples, and Mario's blind allegiance to his smarter younger brother has terrible consequences. The ensemble cast also includes charismatic mercenary gun dealer Ulysses Foreman. Foreman and Strange are the oldest characters in the cast, and as the body count rises, Pelecanos keeps readers guessing as to who will bow first. This is vintage Pelecanos, with characters to remember, dialogue that rocks, an unsentimental, kinetic tableau of the D.C. underworld and, most of all, a conscience.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Pelecanos, George
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown; 1st edition (March 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316608432
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316608435
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,557,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

George P. Pelecanos was born in Washington, DC in 1957. His first novel was published in 1992 and alongside his consequential success as an author, he has also worked as producer, writer and story editor for the acclaimed and award-winning US crime series, The Wire. His writing for the show earned him an Emmy nomination.

He is the author of fifteen crime novels set in and around Washington, DC. The Big Blowdown was the recipient of the International Crime Novel of the Year award in both Germany and Japan; King Suckerman was shortlisted for the Gold Dagger Award in the UK. His short fiction has appeared in Esquire and the collections Unusual Suspects and Best American Mystery Stories of 1997. He is an award-winning journalist and pop-culture essayist who has written for the Washington Post.

Pelecanos can also claim credit for involvement in the production of several feature films. Most recently, as a screenwriter for film, he has written an adaptation of King Suckerman for Dimension Films, and was co-writer on the Paid in Full.

His novel Right as Rain is currently in development with director Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential, Wonder Boys) and Warner Brothers. He is a writer on the upcoming World War II miniseries The Pacific, to be produced by Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and HBO. Pelecanos lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife and three children. He is at work on his next novel.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By JC on March 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The popularity of George Pelecanos is on the rise, and with good reason. Soul Circus is the third installment of his Derek Strange series, and it more than meets the high expectations set by the previous two. Pelecanos is to Washington, DC as Robert Crais and Michael Connelly are to Los Angeles. He knows the streets, the people, and the culture and his writing reflects the knowledge of an insider. His depictions of urban youth, gang violence, and drug culture are on the mark and he pulls no punches.
Character development seems to be a strong suit of Pelecanos, as Derek Strange is one of the best around. There is not a reader around who will dislike him. He is not perfect - in fact, he is quite flawed. He's married, but he's reluctant to fully immerse himself in family life. He opposes the death penalty and hates the drugs that plague his neighborhood, but at times resorts to violence and illegal activities himself. He is constantly trying to help the younger men with whom he comes in contact, but realizes that he can only go so far.
Terry Quinn is his partner, and he is just as flawed as Strange. He does not believe in stronger gun control laws, and hates when he is 'punked' due to the fact that he is white. He is prone to violence and has a temper. He often steps over the line, but he is just as loveable as Strange and brings a great deal to the story.
Soul Circus is a novel filled with violence and the death of the young. It is at times brutal, and Pelecanos does not flinch when he relates the reality of murder to his readers. He does not, however, portrey all those involved in the drug trade as evil thugs. No character in this book is drawn so black and white as to be wholly good or bad.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Glenn on April 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
George Pelecanos is one of today�s best crime writers. I�ve read all of his novels and I can honestly say that I�ve never been disappointed. In his latest novel, Soul Circus, Mr. Pelecanos returns us to the Washington D.C. of Derek Strange and Terry Quinn. It�s a Washington that most of us don�t know about. Drug dealers, gangs, guns and violence abound, but that�s not all these neighborhoods are about. Mr. Peleconos takes us deep into our capitols neighborhoods and culture.
If you�ve been keeping up with Mr. Pelecanos�s writing you�ll know that, Harriet Klausner pay attention here, this is Derek Strange and Terry Quinn�s third appearance and Mr. Pelecanos�s 11th novel.
As I said before I�ve enjoyed every one of his novels but the ending to Soul Circus is a surprise that I wasn�t prepared for. It may just signal the end to Derek Strange�s stories. I guess we�ll just have to wait and see.
If you�ve read Right as Rain and Hell to Pay then pick up this novel as soon as possible. If you haven�t�..What are you waiting for?
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 9, 2003
Format: Audio Cassette
With his 11th novel bestselling author George Pelecanos offers another powerful, disturbing and highly readable story set on the mean streets of Washington, D.C. Private investigator Derek Strange with the aid of Terry Quinn again takes center stage as turf battles erupt in violent grabs for territory and money.
Accomplished voice performer Richard Allen adds just the right amounts of menace and bravado to his reading, ably inhabiting the skins of both good and bad guys.
When a D. C. crime boss is captured and imprisoned he seems a shoo-in for the ultimate punishment. Lawyers representing the gang leader hire Strange to help in getting a lighter sentence. A witness is needed to cast doubt on testimony against the drug lord, and that witness might just be an angry former girlfriend. After all, hell hath no fury like a you-know-who.
Meanwhile with the crime boss in jail two young drug dealers are jousting for the apparently up for grabs neighborhood and profits to come. It is, as Pelecanos makes clear, a vicious circle that goes round and round in an amoral neighborhood where fear rules and friendships are forsaken.
Pelecanos writes thinking man's thrillers, as his legions of fans will attest.
- Gail Cooke
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By "wshntnls" on June 29, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Soul Circus was a disappointment after the first two Derek Strange novels (Hell To Pay and Right as Rain). There is much to enjoy in the book, but not half as much as either of the previous two novels.
There were two problems that bogged down the book for me. First, Pelecanos seems to have lost interest in the character of Terry Quinn from the very beginning -- the only time that Pelecanos seems to be invested enough to animate Quinn into a full, believeable character is in Quinn's bedroom scenes; apart from those Quinn's a prop here.
The second issue that weighs this installment (unfortunately "installment" is an accurate pun here) is that the callbacks (the echoes in pattern, relationships) to the previous two books feel like Pelecanos engaging in the same-ol', same-ol' rather than feeling like Pelecanos is further elucidating, or even effectively reinforcing, either who the characters are or that the characters' setting pushes them toward similar situations again and again. It feels like the actions that recur from the previous novels in this series, are repeated because Pelecanos feels the need to have the characters play these notes again, not because the characters have the need to fall into these patterns or have these personality tics. The recurrances play like ill-conceived "hooks" for pop songs.
Both of these issues seem related to what many have noted, that Pelecanos seems less interested in the characters in this book than in driving home a point about gun control and the death penalty. The joy of the previous two works in this series came from exactly the character exploration that's missing here. I look forward to reading the next Derek Strange book that finds something new to explore about Strange and DC -- Pelecanos does that so well.
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