RARA-AVIS: Pelecanos and Lehane

From: K Montin ( kmontin@total.net)
Date: 08 May 2001

I've been lurking for what seems like years, posting only occasionally. Today I actually have time on my hands to do a little writing, so am firing off a number of messages about what I've been reading in the past few months. I hope this isn't considered to be hogging the list. I'm in the middle of Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B. Hughes and will try to weigh in on that before the end of the month.

After hearing so much about it, I finally obtained The Big Blowdown by George Pelecanos through an interlibrary loan. I read it in four days, and not because I had to give it back right away, either. The tension builds slowly but steadily for most of the book and the character of Pete Karras has lots of time to develop. The story's about a bunch of really tough guys, emphasis on guys. The women are totally peripheral, serving the story as the female characters serve the male: fulfilling the roles of housekeepers and girlfriends, not to mention prostitutes.

On more than one occasion, other men tell Pete that he's the kind of man they always wanted to be, and he tells them they're crazy -- they're the real men. He recognizes his failings, yet he chooses to indulge them. He's a bad husband and father, and he'd still be a gangster if only the boss had a little more tolerance for his "softer" side, the side that wanted to give some poor debtor a couple of days extra to pay up. And why? Because ordinary life is too boring. Who can play with a two year old for more than five minutes? Who wants to eat supper with his wife? He is an attractive character nonetheless. He has a sense of what is right and is willing to sacrifice himself for his friends.

The time and place (post-War Washington, DC) were evoked well and the strands of the story were woven together nicely. I haven't read another novel set in a multiethnic community where there were any significant numbers of Greeks; that aspect was interesting, too. I think I will look for others by the author, especially those with the word "mystery" on the jacket (I can't help it, that's my favourite type of book) -- he really can write. (Question to GP: Should Boyle be angry after eating a couple of hotdogs [p. 146], or merely hungry?)

I read two by Dennis Lehane in a row: Sacred and Gone, Baby, Gone. I really enjoyed them both. Tough characters, tight plot, sense of humour. Violence, but not too much. I'm looking forward to reading all the others I can get my hands on. Patrick Kenzie is appealing and it's a nice change to find a woman like Angie Gennaro, who can hold her own as a detective yet is emotionally vulnerable. I hope she's in the other books of the series.

Karin Montin

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