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February 17, 2005

Reviews: Shame the Devil and Hard Revolution

Shame the Devil

Hard Revolution

I guess it would be fair to call this a review of George Pelecanos, since I'm going to hit a couple of his books at once.

It was very interesting reading¹ these books in the first couple of months after moving to suburban Maryland. These books are set in and around Washington D.C., and would frequently refer to, for example, Georgia Avenue -- which I drive on a bit every day during my commute. It was great to kind of get a flavor of the urban center not all that far southeast of me, and a little bit of its history.

The two books are related only in location. The first is contemporary, set in 1999 or so, and concerns a crime in which a robbery goes somewhat bad and several people (including a child) are killed -- and the eventual fallout from that some years later. The other is set in the late 60s, and could be said to be about Derek Strange, a series character for Pelecanos who appears in some of his other more contemporary novels.

I think it's fair to say that Pelecanos is to urban D.C. what Ellroy is to L.A. and Hollywood; both deal with a gritty, almost noirish style incorporating elements from their locales. Each weave stories from multiple threads involving people from several walks of life. Each involve lurid or heartbreaking crimes. But Pelecanos has a sparser style, in contrast to Ellroy's flamboyant (and wordy) one; Ellroy is a tabloid, while Pelecanos is reserved and strictly the facts, ma'am.

Of the two novels, Hard Revolution was the better book -- I found Shame the Devil a little less intriguing though no less a character study than the other. Revolution draws from a larger canvas, however, and perhaps that's why it struck home a bit better -- it's set in the weeks just prior to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and I came away wishing I knew more about the history of that period. It also left me wanting to read some of the other books about Derek Strange, though only just -- I'm unlikely to pick up any other books by Pelecanos because, having read two, it seems that they'll all be much the same.

A final note about the audio book -- I found the reader fairly unintelligible for the first few chapters. His voice was very gravelly and when he would slip into voices for some of the characters, I found him extremely hard to follow. (A hard Revolution indeed.) This definitely colored my enjoyment of the book -- while I was able to appreciate its construction and style, I got less enjoyment listening than I might have reading.

¹Yes, reading and listening to. It's hard to talk about a book that you've read and a book that you've listened to together. Let's just say they were "read", and be done with it.

Posted by Brett Douville at February 17, 2005 09:35 PM


d00d, you've gotta do something about the comment spam.

Posted by: Andrew at February 22, 2005 12:58 AM

Yeah, I know, it's killing me. I'm going to take a look tonight.

Posted by: Brett Douville at February 22, 2005 08:04 AM