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Hard Revolution Mass Market Paperback – February 1, 2005

4.2 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The author's admirers are familiar with middle-aged black PI Derek Strange, featured in several novels (Soul Circus, etc.) so strong that one critic has dubbed Pelecanos the Zola of contemporary crime fiction. This memorable tale is a prequel to those novels, set in Washington, D.C., mostly just before and during the 1968 riots sparked by the killing of Martin Luther King Jr. The first few chapters, though, unfold in 1959, introducing major characters whose paths will entwine later: Derek-who's nabbed for shoplifting but given a break that will set his life on a (more or less) law-abiding pat-hand his older brother, Dennis; their hardworking parents; and some ancillary figures. By 1968, Derek is a young cop partnered with a white guy; Dennis is a pot-smoking slacker; and many of their acquaintances from '59 are working dead-end jobs with an eye toward crime. The ensuing narrative swirls around two scenarios: a plan by Dennis and two street-thug pals to rob a local Greek-owned store (Pelecanos wrote extensively about D.C.'s Greek community in early novels, and many of the nonblack characters here are Greek-American) and a plot by three young white hoods to rob a bank, but only after they drunkenly kill a young black man for sport. The action is fueled by the heat of race relations, which Pelecanos explores with acuity-particularly in his portrayal of Derek, who as a black cop is considered an enemy by many other blacks. Written in rich, observant prose, the novel is a brilliant study of a society tearing apart as racial tensions escalate after the King killing; no wonder some observers have pointed to Pelecanos as the kind of thriller writer who should be nominated for a National Book Award.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Pelecanos first introduced a 50-something Derek Strange in Right as Rain, Hell to Pay, and Soul Circus. Hard Revolution takes us back in time and juxtaposes Derek's childhood with his early years as a cop. Pelecanos, a hard-boiled crime writer, sets this novel, like his previous ones, in a gritty, violent, and racist Washington, D.C. He makes no excuses for the era or place, describing the city and its workings in detailed, urgent, and often offensive prose. It's not a page-turner, but rather a window into the hope--and despair--of an era. The characters seek redemption, but don't always find it. At heart, notes The New York Times Book Review, the story speaks to "the ways Americans love, betray, help and cannot help one another."

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (February 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446611433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446611435
  • Product Dimensions: 4.1 x 1 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #812,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
George Pelecanos is one of those writers you start reading and then in spite of having to take out the garbage, or check the parking meter, or pop a prescription pill, you can't put the book down. What he does is hook you by making his characters so fleshed out, so well drawn, so real, that it's all you can do to stop--even if your wife, husband, girlfriend, or boyfriend is yelling at you because they need something immediately.
Hard Revolution, set in the late 50s, then the late 60s around Pelecanos' neck of the woods, Washington DC, seamlessly fuses a tale of social issues, day to day life of the working class, and hard crime. It does this by focusing on, as noted, the characters. Pelecanos does this a whole lot better than a slew of other writers working today. It's the characters that drive the situations they're in--whether they create the situations, or are forced into them, or stumble upon them.
Derek and Dennis Strange, brothers, are anything but two peas in a pod. The sons of a solid black working class couple, they live their lives the way they see fit. Dennis drifts--by the time the main action gets underway--1968--he's a VietNam vet and is directionless. This prompts him to move in drug circles, with those a lot nastier and more violent than he is. After getting caught by the proprietor of the store he tried to steal from when a kid, Derek gets his life straight and becomes one of the first black cops on the DC force.
No Pelecanos novel would exist without Greek characters and they're here too. But more than that are three lowlife white guys (Buzz and Dominic are two of the names, instantly giving you a sense of the time) whose actions ignite the black-white tension that forms the crux of the novel.
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Format: Hardcover
This fourth book in the Derek Strange cycle (Right as Rain, Hell to Pay, and Soul Circus precede it), finally takes longtime readers of Pelecanos to an event we've been waiting for him to deal with: Washington, D.C.'s 1968 riots. I wasn't even born until a few years after the riots, but growing up in D.C., it was hard to miss the physical and psychic scars they left on the city. Once again Pelecanos brilliantly uses the pulp crime novel as a vehicle for his sociocultural history of Washington, D.C. This is one of his best works yet, acting as a prequel to the Strange series while seamlessly taking on issues of race, what it means to be a man, duty, and the nobility of work.

The story opens with Derek Strange passing from childhood to adolescence in 1959, running around his Northeast neighborhood where white and black kids uneasily co-exist. His best friend is a Greek boy whose father owns the diner where Derek's father sweats over the grill. These seventy pages introduce almost all the dramatis personae of the main part of the book, including Derek's family (mother, father, older brother), the no-good Martini brothers, Detective Frank Vaughn and his family, and two racist gearheads named Buzz and Stu. A final character is the city itself, which is undergoing transformation as postwar integration brings demographic changes with it. There's a little heavy handedness, when Derek gets caught shoplifting and a store owner's lecture sets him on the right path, but for the most part this part is a carefully crafted kaleidoscopic tour of the people and places that will come into play nine years later.

Part Two takes place in the spring of 1968, during the weeks preceding the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and into the riots that broke out in response.
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Format: Hardcover
The best writer of black crime fiction is white. Pelecanos knows stuff that no other white person knows and stuff that no black would ever tell a white. How does he know this stuff? While other writers may have black characters they do not have the right voice so most don't even try. Pelecanos is different. Not only does his voice ring true, it is true. This novel introduces us to the young Derek Strange. Although technically a crime novel, there is precious little sleuthing here. Rather, Pelecanos wants us to know and feel how close this nation came to being ripped apart by Viet Nam and civil rights. This is strong stuff. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
"Hard Revolution" is apparently part of a "prequel" trilogy that will provide the backstory to the Derek Strange we've met in Pelecanos' recent series of novels. The book gives the texture of DC in a way that's recognizable to someone like me who lived there well after 1968. It also captures the way people were thinking and talking about race at that time. One drawback is that someone who hasn't lived in DC (or hasn't ventured East of the Park or North of Logan Circle) will not get the geography. I used to live in Adams Morgan and worked up near Silver Spring & Shepherd Park, so the action takes place in neighborhoods and streets I came to know very well. But someone else is likely to be miffed, in places.

The plot really takes a backseat to the characters and the 1968 riots provide a temporal anchor to the story rather than being its main focal point. In many ways, placing the the riots in a largely secondary role (while priming us for them with the recurring mentions of Dr. King) makes this stronger as a work of historical fiction--we are left to figure out what was happening without someone trying to hit us over the head with "heavy" explanations.

At the heart of this are relationships--between Strange and his brother; between the brother and a couple small time hoods; and among a parallel group of three white hoods of similar age. The interconnectedness of the African-American community in Washington and the connections between the African-American characters with various whites also play a big part. The ambiguity and contradictions that frame peoples' ideas about race and their relations with people from a different race are all real and have seldom been described with such meaning and depth, particularly by a white writer.

Pelecanos is one of the few really prolific mystery writers whose work has continued to grow and develop without outgrowing his characters or plots. I look forward to whatever comes next.
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