RARA-AVIS: Pelecanos: Nick's Trip (Review)

From: ejmd ( ejmd@cwcom.net)
Date: 02 Feb 2000

George P. Pelecanos Nick's Trip 276 pp. Serpent's Tail UK £7.99 / US $12.99 paperback ISBN 1-85242-562-8

Although this is the third of George P. Pelecanos's Nick Stefanos novels to be published by Serpent's Tail, chronologically speaking, it is the second in the series.

Here, in Stefanos's first 'real' case, set a year after the events related in the first novel, A Firing Offence, an old friend, Billy Goodrich, turns up to ask for Nick's help in finding his missing wife, April. While the case of the missing wife is the pretext for Nick's trip, Stefanos undertakes a number of other journeys during the course of this investigation.

First there's the literal journey, which develops chronologically fowards through the investigation, and proceeds geographically south from Washington DC, as Stefanos and Goodrich travel south, deep into the woods of Maryland, to Tommy Crane's pig-farm...

Then there are Stefanos's other journeys: he journeys back in time to reserches the temps perdu of his own youth, recollecting the set lists of bands he went to see with now lost friends, and recalling various youthful escapades, usually enjoyed under the influence of more recreational drugs than a member of the serious crime squad could swear under oath to have found in your pocket.

While every Pelecanos novel is something of a journey around Washington DC, in Nick's Trip it's fascinating to watch Stefanos revisit the sites of his youth. Travelling to Brooklands, now a poor black district, but once a 'nice' area where his grandfather, 'Big Nick' had property, allows Stefanos to reminisce about the pleasant Sunday strolls of his childhood and to compare the new 'poorer, harder' DC with the old.

Needless to say, there is a fair bit of drinking, lots of driving around, and plenty of relationship stuff. Nick Stefanos carries a lot of pschyo-baggage and rarely wastes an opportunity to air his emotional laundry. Apart from the 'Greek' aspects which allow him to explore his relationship with his ethnicity, and his grandfather, Big Nick (now there's something for the Freudians), Stefanos has a habit of re-running his childhood in his head. This tends to make him something of a Peter Pan figure-in a sense he resists 'growing up' by continually seeking to return to the past-and this fatherless private dick recalls some 'male bonding' moments from his adolesence with an attention to detail that is surely a cry for therapy. As he remarks to Billy Goodrich, 'I expected things to be like they were ... when we were kids.'
  Here too, as ever, the women who are close to Stefanos fare reasonably well. Although Stefanos's old friend Jackie tests Stefanos's capacity for male-female friendship to the limit, she does provide the possibility of a soujourn to San Fran at some later date. Meanwhile, his new friend Lyla McCubbin, managing editor of DC This Week, can serve as both a source of information for later investigations as well as provide the love interest.

Pelecanos's writing is highly self-conscious, and this is apparent in the way in which the first-person narrative suffers from the all-too-present 'I'. For example, in one passage of eleven consecutive sentences (pp. 42-43) narrator Stefanos uses 'I' nine times. This serves to draw attention to what can only be described as self-obsessed narration; it is as if Stefanos/Pelecanos is trying just a bit too hard, with the effect is that, in places, the story has something of an
'over-written' feel to it. (There's also a highly improbable telephone conversation with April Goodrich's doctor, if this is the place to air such niggles). That said, the novel is well plotted, thoroughly enjoyable and highly entertaining. And Pelecanos's style does improve, as his later work-especially the recently published King Suckerman-attests.

If you've already read Pelecanos, you'll know exactly what to expect: slickly written rites of retro-passage stuff, in which we always know what every character in the scene is wearing; and precisely what track is playing on the juke-box or what cassette is currently in the tape machine.

If you haven't tried Pelecanos before, he's certainly well worth reading, if only to see for yourself what all the fuss is about (the truly brilliant Barry Gifford, for example, declares in a blurb on the jacket, 'to miss out on Pelecanos would be criminal'). And of course, to see how Stefanos resolves the case of the missing wife, and to see how he manages his various 'return journeys', both those that take place in the past, and those in the present. Stefanos is alright: anyone who kisses 'hello' as a wind-up deserves to be given a chance.


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