RARA-AVIS: Katz, Pelecanos

From: Victoria Esposito-Shea ( vmes@northnet.org)
Date: 10 Feb 2000

>This reminds me. I've seen several very good reviews of a "Suburban
>Detective Mystery" series by Jon Katz, the first of which is "Death by
>Station Wagon." The back jacket copy on the paperback is entitled: "The
>Mean Streets of Suburbia." However, it goes on to describe the
>protagonist as "a soft-boiled detective." I've got this book, but never
>seem to get to it. Does anyone know it? How soft is the PI? The cover
>painting looks very ominous, but is the book that dark, I hope? Are
>they as good as reviews have led me to believe?

Quite frankly, I think they're godawful. Having said that, I have to go on to say that I've read all but one of the series--but that's a nasty habit of mine that I really must get rid of one of these days. I keep thinking
"Oh, he can't be THAT bad," so I read another book or two, and it always turns out that he's THAT bad.

IIRC, Parker first started mining the suburbs in 1973 or so, and it probably was pretty revolutionary back then. Katz started somewhere around
'91, and it's safe to say he hasn't broken any new ground. Some examples of the things his PI learns in the suburbs are: that women have a tough dilemma in today's society, and there are no easy answers; that you can try really hard with your kid and do all the "right" things and s/he will still have problems; and that material wealth doesn't buy happiness.

As I said, not a whole lot of really new ground, and "softboiled" is a kind description for the PI. Also, what really pissed me off when I first read the series was that Katz doesn't seem to have much feeling for the tradition he's allegedly writing in. I think my first clue was when the PI said something like "the Pinkertons could have stayed at their desks all day if they'd had computers", and my immediate reaction was something like
"helllooo, that's what they were trying to avoid by becoming Pinkertons".

While I'm here, I picked up my first Pelecanos this week--THE BIG BLOWDOWN, followed by THE SWEET FOREVER. I liked THE BIG BLOWDOWN, and saw in it a lot of what Reed mentioned--good friend/bad friend, redemption, et cetera. But THE SWEET FOREVER really blew me away, no doubt in large part because I was sixteen when it takes place and remember the music and the clothing
(and Len Bias) fairly well. I was aware of a lot more detail in this one
(the only thing that jumped out at me from BLOWDOWN was constant reference to cigarette brands), but the detail in FOREVER evoked the time perfectly for me. And the whole redemption issue is treated totally differently--sort of a fake ending which I thought really worked given the times Pelecanos was writing about. I'll be reading more of him, for sure.

Later, Vicky

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