RARA-AVIS: Washington writers

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 02 Dec 2001

Having worked in Washington for most of the last twenty years, I will make a few preliminary comments about writers using the setting with the expectation of saying more later in the month.

First a question. Is the Robert Andrews, author of A MURDER WITH HONOR, the same Andrews who wrote spy novels such as FIRST SPY OUT? I think that was the title. I don't have it in front of me.

I always rather enjoyed the Steve Bentley novels of E. Howard Hunt but would not consider them more than slightly above average. One Washington writer from long ago not mentioned is Richard Starnes, a DC reporter who had some success around 1950 with novels like AND WHEN SHE WAS BAD SHE WAS MURDERED and ANOTHER MUG FOR THE BIER. A decade later, he also turned to spy novels. I won't push one of my favorites Audrey Walz, who wrote several Washington novels under the name Francis Bonnamy, as they were not hard boiled.

I will mention Charles McCarry. Most of his writing involves espionage, befitting someone who spent years undercover with the CIA. He is, in my humble opinion, one of the best living Washington writers.

One other writer of the past to mention who is not normally associated with Washington: Joel Townsley Rogers. I always loved his THE RED RIGHT HAND and one day back in the early 80s I happened to notice his name in the DC phone book. Pure accident. I wrote to the address and had a nice letter from his wife. Rogers had a stroke a few months before and was unable himself to write back. I would have loved talking with him it I had made the discovery a few months earlier.

But to get back to the present, I would have to rank George Pelecanos at the top. Somebody sent me the ARC of his first novel and I bought the second on my own. While not as good as his later work, his talent and ability was obvious. Okay, there are things that appeal to area residents that may not be evident to out of towners. Such as his treatment of music. He is spot-on with radio stations and with the sense and feel of the DC music scene. I am not a big clubber but I do get out now and then and love and appreciate his picture of the club scene. DC is a very complicated music city. It is a hotbed of jazz and bluegrass. It is also the home of Go-Go, a very syncopated, improvisational music form that has never really broken onto the national scene but is very influencial. Go-go is DC and Pelecanos knows Chuck Brown ("The Godfather of Go-Go"), Rare Essence, Northeast Groovers and The Huck-A-Bucks. I always feel that readers sense accuracy. It does not matter that most of them never heard of Go-Go or much of the other music mentioned. They sense this guy knows what he is talking about--both the music and the scene. It is something that can't be faked.

The other thing that impresses me about Pelecanos is his take on issues, social issues. I have always respected writers who deal with issues in a way that prompt thought without turning the story into a tract. I happen to be in a period when I am rethinking some issues and the novels have certainly had an impact on me beyond the pure literary. The institutional indifference to some issues is both tragic and unforgivable. Pelecanos cares and whether that has an impact or not, I can't say beyond the personal impact I feel. But the issues are important and he at least is confronting them.

Richard Moore

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