What it Was

Pelicanos, George. What It Was. Reagan Arthur Bks: Little, Brown. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9780316209533. $35; pap. ISBN 9780316209540. $9.99.

Derek Strange, a private dick in 1972 Washington, D.C, is chasing bad guy Red Fury, who’s making the move from mere lowlife to local drug-dealing kingpin. Does that sound good to you? Then trust me, go forth and read it. Thing is, I get fined by the book reviewers union if I squander the 200-word allotment, so‚ĶPelicanos makes old-school fun with a propulsive plot featuring multiple teams‚ the cops, the mafia, even some hookers‚ all, for various reasons, chasing Fury. With no master plan, Red is burning his bridges faster than Patton’s Third Army ripping through Avranches. Loving little details of the ’70s are expertly interwoven: Strange gets $8 an hour, wears slacks, and says dig it. Still, if the action is hot and the details are chunky, the characters are shallow. These are doers, not thinkers, primal and unsophisticated. You’re not surprised that a cop and his paramour put a June Christy record on the console stereo and fixed a couple of cocktails. They had some laughs and fucked like animals in her bed. It’s easy to see how Pelicanos’s work translates to the small screen (The Wire, Treme).
So‚ why should dudes read it? It’s easy to read with lots of action and violence. What’s not to like?

This review appeared in Library Journal’s Books for Dudes The Good Guys, the Bad Guys, and the Ugly Guys in Six Suspenseful New Novels; the galley was shredded on August 12, 2012.

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