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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What it Is
I've long been a fan of Pelecanos' work, my initiation starting with his novel RIGHT AS RAIN, and continuing along after that joyride to include his other works. I was struck from the beginning by the authenticity of his characters, the rhythm of his writing, and his powerful handling of violence. His work has a verisimilitude often absent in genre fiction. He isn't a...
Published on January 25, 2012 by PTD

versus
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enough already with the music and cars
George Pelecanos is among my favorite crime novelists, but this effort clearly lacks the heft of his full-blown novels. I stumbled onto it at a bookstore, not knowing or expecting he had a new one coming out. At first I thought it was a re-issue from years earlier or something. That it came out in paperback without first appearing in hardback signals its difference:...
Published on February 26, 2012 by Tracy Rosselle


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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What it Is, January 25, 2012
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This review is from: What It Was (Kindle Edition)
I've long been a fan of Pelecanos' work, my initiation starting with his novel RIGHT AS RAIN, and continuing along after that joyride to include his other works. I was struck from the beginning by the authenticity of his characters, the rhythm of his writing, and his powerful handling of violence. His work has a verisimilitude often absent in genre fiction. He isn't a crime novelist, he's a NOVELIST, period. I'm of the opinion that Pelecanos never makes a wrong note. I've read SHOEDOG, one of his lesser known novels, more than a handful of times. Now, to his latest work. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a new Pelecanos shortly on the heels of THE CUT, his hardcover released late last year (another gem, by the way). The surprise was then elevated upon learning that this newest novel would return to the world of Derek Strange, a character I've grown to love. But then, I love all of the characters in Pelecanos' world, from Nick Stefanos, to Terry Quinn, to...well, you get the point. This newest novel gripped me from page one and never let up steam. Written in scenes both cinematic and rhythmic (vignettes)told from the points of view of several characters, WHAT IT WAS is a study in how a crime novel should be written. Violent but emotionally satisfying, poignant in its rendering of the human condition (here you have the criminal perspective, the police perspective, the private investigator perspective, the girlfriends riding shotgun with their criminal boyfriends perspective--all handled with aplomb). To say that Pelecanos is a master is an understatement. I'd read a new book every month from him. Kudos.

Phillip Thomas Duck
author of Triage: A Thriller (Shell Series)
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blisteringly Good, January 26, 2012
This review is from: What It Was (Paperback)
Much of the attention around George Pelecanos' new book, WHAT IT WAS, has focused on the quite brilliant way that the good folks at Mulholland Books are publishing and marketing it. In case you haven't read about it, instead of the standard e-book and hardcover release followed months later by a paperback edition, WHAT IT WAS is available now as a 99-cent e-book, a trade paperback for $9.99, or a limited-edition, signed and slip-cased hardcover for $35.

I think this is quite brilliant, but the reality is that it wouldn't matter a whit if the story contained on the paper or e-pages wasn't up to snuff. Luckily for us all, WHAT IS WAS is one of Pelecanos' best, second only to RIGHT AS RAIN in my estimation.

WHAT IT WAS is set in 1972. Derek Strange has hung out his private investigator shingle. His former partner, Frank Vaughn, is still on the force. Red "Fury" Jones, a villain for the ages, is wreaking havoc in Washington DC, which Pelecanos brings to life in a manner that makes the reader quite certain she was actually there.

Many have called WHAT IT WAS noir, and I'm sure the label fits, but for me, it's much more than noir. Derek Strange has been a favorite character for years and for him to remain surprising and engaging is testament to Pelecanos' awesome storytelling prowess. Pelecanos obviously respects his setting, character and stories because he shortchanges none of them. Even the ancillary characters--like Red's girlfriend and sidekick or Strange's mistress or mom--are so vivid that I wouldn't have been surprised to have any one of them knock on my front door (ok, a little surprised, but you know what I mean).

Pelecanos has always been unapologetic in his storytelling, both in his books and on TV shows "The Wire" and "Treme." WHAT IT WAS continues this tradition, and I hope he never gives this up. WHAT IT WAS doesn't flinch at violence or human frailty; on the contrary, it celebrates both.

This will sound frivolous to some, but I have to also commend Pelecanos for telling a complete and complex tale in less than 300 pages. In a world where publishers put authors under contract to deliver stories that run to 400 pages and more even when they don't need to be, WHAT IT WAS is exactly the length it needs to be. It includes not one extraneous word, scene or plot element.

If you've never read Pelecanos, WHAT IT WAS is a fine place to start. While the books featuring Derek Strange are a series, they're not bound by elements of surprise that make reading them in order necessary.

Come this time next year, I expect to have seen WHAT IT WAS on plenty of Best of 2012 lists. I know it will be on mine. It is blisteringly good.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not up to the author's standard, February 15, 2012
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This review is from: What It Was (Kindle Edition)
Pelecanos is a big favorite of mine and I just recently really enjoyed The Cut. But, this book seemed like kind of a "mail it in" effort by him. He's cutting his books a little short, it seems to me. Maybe that sounds odd - "the restaurant's food was lousy and the portions were so small", kind of thing. What's different here is that I felt he was shortcutting the character development. Particularly the mob guys in this book. They had a fairly important role, but I didn't think they were well described to the reader. When those kinds of descriptions are what makes you a standout author, it doesn't pay to scrimp on them.

The story was pretty predictable. I enjoyed it, but I know the author can do better. I hope he gets back on track with his next book. I've read all of his books and just didn't find this one to be of the same quality as others.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enough already with the music and cars, February 26, 2012
This review is from: What It Was (Paperback)
George Pelecanos is among my favorite crime novelists, but this effort clearly lacks the heft of his full-blown novels. I stumbled onto it at a bookstore, not knowing or expecting he had a new one coming out. At first I thought it was a re-issue from years earlier or something. That it came out in paperback without first appearing in hardback signals its difference: Figuring in the relatively large font and slim page count, the novel is probably half the length of The Turnaround or The Night Gardener. I was pleased that it featured (a younger version of) the Derek Strange character; I really enjoyed the trilogy of books featuring the PI beginning with Right as Rain. But I was constantly annoyed with Pelecanos' all-too-frequent descriptions of music and cars. He's always done this, and when used sparingly it helps to set a scene and mood, and in this case create verisimilitude in a novel set in 1972. But his editor was asleep on this one; needed to rein in at least half of this nonsense, because it starts to get in the way of the reader's enjoyment of the story. Elmore Leonard says when he's editing his own stuff that if it sounds to him like writing, then he rewrites it. I'm not sure what Pelecanos is doing with all the music and car details, but it must have to do with something other than the story (like conveying his personal taste in such things). He should take some advice from Leonard and rewrite it before foisting it on readers.
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42 of 59 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This is no George Higgins but ok for $ .99, January 25, 2012
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This review is from: What It Was (Kindle Edition)
Not a bad story for the 99 cents I paid for it; would have been very dissappointed had I paid more. Reads fast like a television drama series with about as much depth. Parts of the story seem to be put there just to make it juicy; like an HBO series in that it has pops of gratuitous sex or sensuality that don't really do much for the story and seem kind of unnecessary. For example lines like this used to close out a chapter "...his thick, helmeted c*#k plunging in and out of her warm, wet box, a pure physical act, which was what both of them were there for." It seems that the sex is just put there to be there. None of the characters sexual interactions have anything to do with what's going on with the story.

I'm a fan of noir and crime fiction and this story does fit into the genre but not high on my list. I thought the dialogue was a little flaky and there wasn't much depth in any of the characters; I would say that there was almost no development on the female characters. Overall I found the story cliché. I suppose this story would work out on the big screen with a "Sin City" like vibe but didn't do much for me in print. I finished it feeling the story could have been much more than it was.

I wouldn't go out of my way to reccomend it to someone nor would I read it again; it was good for passing some time. If you want to read a gritty crime novel with real dialogue and characters check out "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" by Higgins or "Muscle for the Wing" by Daniel Woodrell. I guess I measure all books in this genre up against titles such as those. Based on my experience with this book I probably won't be spending money on any more from this author. If I find him in a thrift store for 99 cents I may give him another shot.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Glimpse of the Young Derek Strange, August 1, 2013
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This review is from: What It Was (Paperback)
In 2001, in Right as Rain, George Pelecanos introduced Derek Strange, an ex-cop turned private detective in Washington D.C., where virtually all of Pelecanos's books are set. Strange would ultimately appear in three other novels, and this book makes the fifth.

On a rainy afternoon in 2011, Strange, who is now on the wrong side of sixty, is sitting in a bar with his pal, Nick Stefanos. A song comes up on the jukebox, as songs are wont to do in a George Pelecanos novel, and it sets Strange to reminiscing about events in the summer of 1972, the summer of the Watergate burglary that would ultimately bring down the Nixon presidency.

Over a long afternoon and several drinks, Strange proceeds to tell Stefanos the story of Red "Fury" Jones. At the time, Strange was just off the police force, beginning his own agency, and so strapped for cash that he couldn't even afford a proper sign out front. A sexy young woman walks into his office and hires Strange to recover a ring that she claims to have inherited from her grandmother. It's just cheap costume jewelry, she says, but it has great sentimental value.

For some reason, the woman had given the ring to a friend who is also a drug addict so that he could have it appraised for her. The story sounds more than a little fishy, but then these stories always do, and Strange agrees to track down the ring.

Strange discovers that the addict to whom the woman had entrusted the ring has been murdered and the ring has gone missing. In pursuit of the missing ring, Strange reconnects with his old partner, Frank Vaughn, the detective in charge of investigating the addict's murder.

What follows is an entertaining tale as Vaughn pursues a multiple murderer while Strange attempt to recover the ring which turns out to be as elusive as the infamous black bird from The Maltese Falcon. The story includes a lot of colorful characters and contains all the trademark Pelecanos references to cars, "decks" of cigarettes, and about eight thousand different songs. There's a fair amount of sex and violence, and it's fun to watch the young Derek Strange in action again. This book will appeal to large numbers of crime fiction readers and fans of Pelecanos will not want to miss it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for old fans and new, February 3, 2012
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This review is from: What It Was (Paperback)
If you've never read George Pelecanos before, this is a great place to get your feet wet. If you're already a fan and familiar with the Derek Strange character, here's your latest fix. Pelecanos is a master. He gets labelled 'crime fiction' which is complete b.s. because what the guy is writing is excellent literature that transcends any genres. This book flows...and not because it is 'simple.' It is not.

Where other authors will spend three pages of densely worded paragraphs cluing us in to a character's internal state, Pelecanos will write something like, "Strange considered the man standing before him" and from that one sentence we understand exactly what is going down.

If you're nostalgic for the 70s this book will especially resonate with you. Pelecanos' books could easily come with CDs of music mentioned/referenced in his stories. And his characters: vividly drawn, from their idiosyncrasies to their clothes. Red Fury is a great 'bad guy' and, like a lot of Pelecanos' stories, he introduces a couple of other connected (in this case, Mob) hitters. I can't say enough good stuff about this author and this book. Bravo, Mr. Pelecanos!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The 1970's, February 2, 2012
This review is from: What It Was (Paperback)
This novel stemmed from George Pelecanos's novel The Night Gardener where a character Red `Fury' Jones was planted as a fable, he wanted to give a whole story with him in as the bad boy.
And what a story it is, well done this is a throwback to the bygone days of Plymouth automobiles, Afro puffs, when single tracks were on 45 records needed of a spacer, no mobiles, social media, or CCTV. Good old detective work knocking down doors and shacking up perps.
He delivers a kind of tale that could be quite true by the letter.
Red and his Madame Coco are wreaking havoc in town and making themselves known.
They are robbing, killing dealers, testers and suppliers.
Bobby Odum a tester of substances is the main focus of Frank "Hound Dog" Vaughn a Washington, D.C. cop investigating his death by the gun of notorious Red. He's been smoked and his stash taken, that stash happens to be on loan from The Syndicate an out of town mobsters, a whole load of fireworks is about to go off. The syndicate hire two contract man Lou Fanella and Gino Gregorio.
Red is biting off more than he can chew.
Derek Strange our other main character a P.I, that George has been running with in previous novels, has been hired by a lady to recover her precious ring that was in possession of the murdered Bobby by the hands of Red. This interlocks Derek Strange a P.I and Vaughan a cop together in an unofficial way in hot pursuit of bringing down and catching the over eager gun totting up and coming bad guy Red.

This is the kind of story I was waiting to read from Pelecanos, he writes with good characters, crisp dialog and slick style. The pace gathers momentum and delivers a satisfying entertaining rumble tumble tale.

Watergate, Afro puffs, colt 22 Woodsmen and Plymouth Fury GT Sport V8 are all from a period of time we will look back on and this story makes you feel part of.
One Red `Fury' Jones is leaving behind a trail of fire making this one, a must read.

Settle up and listen to the track of this stories days and featured in this book `If Loving You is Wrong' by Luther Ingram via a single 45 (don't forget the spacer in the middle) and savor.@more2read.com
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Noir at its Best, January 26, 2012
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J. Weaver "jweaver" (Loganville, GA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: What It Was (Paperback)
What it Was by George Pelecanos

If you have never read Pelecanos than you have surely been missing a wonderful literary time. Pelecanos is a rare talent when it comes to making crime novels rise above the level of the mighty airport read. I have never been unhappy by the quality of the stories or action and that is doubly true with What it Was - his latest contribution to the crime genre.

Derek Strange returns as a retired cop and becomes a private detective in this noirish new work. The book is a non-stop action in the hard-boiled world that Pelecanos has created. Much like his tv work - there are no compromises in story or content - A very adult book that will please you - make sure not to miss it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars They Went Hathaway, January 26, 2012
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Kirk Curnutt (Montgomery, AL USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What It Was (Paperback)
This book is a lot like the decade in which it's set: the garish fashions tend to overshadow the substance, the plot feels loose and sprawling, everybody is collapsing into crass, and the specter of Richard Nixon stinks it up like the bad smell from your local paper mill. Even Amazon's strategy of selling the e-book of 99 cents for its first month makes it seem disposable in a pop way. All of these elements make for a fun, funky read. Pelecanos apparently dashed this off in the summer of 2011 (over a summer! last summer! I'm still trying to find time to upload pictures from last summer!) and it reads like it was dashed-off. Which, again, is part of the charm. The story was inspired by the bloody spree of Raymond "Cadillac" Smith, heretofore known as the black guy in every History channel/Spike TV documentary on the Aryan Brotherhood who was stabbed sixty times in Marion by Tommy Silverstein, not you normal surname among Aryan Bros, but considering how many cats Tommy killed (he's been in solitary for 10,000 days), I wouldn't turn his membership application down either. Anyway, Pelecanos apparently came across a story on Cadillac from June 1972 juxtaposed against one from the Watergate break-in, and, voila, a narrative whose ironies lie in the reader's knowledge of what DC and the nation at large are headed for. Some readers may wish for a more twisty connection between the two crimes than what the book ultimately gives; others may just wish the one guy here didn't eat his own poo while in jail. Personally, I kept waiting for "Red" Fury (Cadillac) to have a bit more characterization or angst to vivify him a bit, but then again, I read the book in two hours, which may be slightly shorter than it took for it to be written. (Again, the fun of it). There's a lot of good action here, plenty of hookers, too, all kinds of cautionary tales about making sure you don't eat Mexican before you snort of coke trail cut with baby laxative, and music. The atmosphere of the music may be the most fun part. Any book where the hero and villain eyeball each other between rows at a Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway concert is awesome in my book. Plus Isaac Hayes makes a cameo. Bare-chested. Nuff said. What it was, my man. As Link from Mod Squad would say: "Solid."
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What It Was
What It Was by George P. Pelecanos
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