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.