RARA-AVIS: Down By the River

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 18 Dec 2001

(1995) today. It's the third of the Nick Stefanos books, and it's depressing. In his Onion interview, Mr. P. says:

| O: Could someone who drinks like Nick Stefanos really solve mysteries?
| GP: Well, I don't think Nick solves anything. Truly, when you look at
| it, he really fucks things up. The Stefanos books were a gradual,
| first-person journey into the abyss, the story of a guy who likes to
| party and, by the third book, Down By The River Where The Dead Men Go,
| becomes a full-blown, fall-down drunk. Seen through his eyes, the world
| becomes more confusing, and it mutates before him. Down By The River is
| the closest thing to a horror novel I will ever write. Often, the books
| end in apocalyptic gundowns because Stefanos doesn't know what else to
| do. Friends and loved ones are killed, the dead don't rise, and Nick
| ends up sitting at the bar, his eyes closed as he downs another shot. I
| don't believe that murders can be "solved." I think that this is the big
| lie of the mystery novel, that you should close the book and feel that
| the world is back in order and everything's all right. I want the reader
| to know that the world is not all right, and maybe we ought to do
| something about it.

If you want a change of pace, read this one after an AA-era Matt Scudder story (but not HOPE TO DIE). Stefanos has almost completely lost it by this book, and he's bingeing and blacking out. Can someone remind me of what he's like in SHAME THE DEVIL? That's set in 1996, presumably shortly after DOWN BY THE RIVER. I remember he's still detecting, but I can't remember what shape his life was in. Was it in that book or THE SWEET FOREVER in 1986 that he and someone (Johnny McGinnes?) go up to the house that's got some criminals in it, and he gets a hinky feeling?

We were talking about DC colour. Here's a paragraph from late in the book:

| My normal path out of Shepherd Park is 13th Street south, straight into
| downtown. From Hamilton Street on down, there was some road repair that
| morning, forcing a merge into one lane. I got into the lane and inched
| along for a while, but my hangover was scraping away at my patience. So
| I cut right on Arkansas, with the intention of hitting Rock Creek east
| of 16th.

I know nothing about any of those streets, or any of the other places in the book. I don't know which direction the Potomac goes and I'm not even sure I pronounce it right. It's an accurate description of the city, though, and I can get as much out of it as I want. Details about street names and neighbourhoods will mostly drift out of my head over the next few days and weeks, like they have before, but the Pelecanos books have given me a picture of the city I never had before. Newspapers and TV never show the rest of the city beyond the federal buildings. If I ever visit, I'd certainly go through the books again. Did people who went to Bouchercon read Washington books by Mr. Pelecanos or Mr. Schutz or others before going?

One thing that struck me at the end of DOWN BY THE RIVER, when Stefanos is winding down with a drink after seeing someone he thought was dead and thinking about all the people who died and how everyone is lonely in their
"own brand of night," was a comparison to the end of that Marlowe novel where the case is over and he goes home and has a drink and stares at his chessboard and says the only way to get by is to have "the hard inner heart that asks for nothing from nobody." What book is that? I can't find the quote on my shelf, so I must be missing it. Marlowe's got self-control, though, and he can take it. Stefanos seems pitched to go off the deep end, which is why I wonder how he was a couple of years later.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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