RARA-AVIS: Thoughts on Pelecanos

From: Reed Andrus ( randrus@home.com)
Date: 07 Feb 2000

Mark Sullivan writes (with apologies for the snip):

> To me, the debate seems to be more about style than craft. Sure, these
> books are not crafted in the style you prefer, but I, at least, believe
> they are well-crafted.
> Mark

This last comment hits the nail on the head, as far as I'm concerned. So I'm gonna offer my two cents, and then let the battle continue.

I've only read one Pelecanos book, THE BIG BLOWDOWN, and was... well, blown away. I'll stumble through my reaction. TBB takes place between 1933 and 1949. I didn't reach the age of three until the end of '49, so I doubt I can claim any kinship to the brand name references used by the author. Without wasting time to check, he could have been using real names or fictitious brands -- doesn't really make any difference to me.

What made a difference is the feeling I received from reading how the author set up a very old trope -- the two lifelong friends who have a falling out/end up on different sides of the law/Pat O'Brien & Humphrey Bogart in "Angels Have Dirty Faces" type of trope. This story was common in the films I grew up watching in the 50's. When I was a kid, a group of us played games where we would assume the names of various characters in films we liked (one guy I remember used the name "Packy," taken from a boxer in -- if I recall -- "Somebody Up There Likes Me" -- but it may have been a different film). We took those names and crafted storylines, sometimes war, sometimes western, sometimes cops and robbers, that always began with a split between brothers or friends, and always culminated with a reconciliation where one or both protagonists died a heroic death.

Reading TBB brought all those memories back. Hackneyed? Trite? Over-written?

Uh-uh. Told with grace and style and ambiance that took me above any references to "post-modernistic" or "mimic-ing" the style of other authors.

My definition of a good read is one that evokes emotion -- disgust, pity, nostalgia, whatever. I got that from reading Pelecanos, and as such I think THE BIG BLOWDOWN is probably one of the finest crime novels I've ever read.

Everyone on the list raves about KING SUCKERMAN. I just picked it up yesterday, along with THE SWEET FOREVER. If those two are anywhere near TBB in emotional range, I'll continue to sing the author's praises. Being a hard-core hard-boiled cynic (with a romantic streak too near the surface for my liking), I don't think Pelecanos can keep going.

Hope I'm wrong.

End of blather.

... Reed

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