RARA-AVIS: Drama City by George Pelecanos

From: Craig Larson ( CLarson@nhcc.edu)
Date: 28 Mar 2005

I read the latest Pelecanos over the weekend and really enjoyed it. Drama City follows Lorenzo Brown, newly released from prison on drug charges and struggling to make a go of it as an animal enforcement officer for the Humane Society. When the job brings him in contact with some of his old friends and acquaintances, the stage is set for a struggle between doing right thing and doing the honorable thing. Should he try to avenge the shooting of his parole officer, Rachel Lopez, a woman he's come to see as a friend, especially since he knows more about the circumstances than the police? Lorenzo's old friend and running partner, Nigel Johnson, is now the head of one drugs operation and dealing with problems of his own--a young man he was grooming for greater responsibility in the organization has just been killed in a senseless confrontation with members of a rival gang--but he still has time to worry about Lorenzo and seeing to it that he sticks to the straight and narrow.

This is a shorter novel than some of Pelecanos' recent books, but no less satisfying for that. The moral issues are still as sticky and there are moments of great despair, as well as triumph (there's a running thread of Narcotics Anonymous meetings in the novel that provide many of these moments). Lorenzo is an easy character to like and his heartfelt concern for the mistreated dogs he continually deals with in his day-to-day life is admirable. He makes some small steps toward trying to get involved in his daughter's life--she doesn't know him, since he's been away in prison all her life--and he also makes the first steps toward romancing a young single mother and her daughter. We're also treated to glimpses of Rachel Lopez's life, marked by an honest level of concern for her parolees when she's on the job, and careless sex and alcohol use when she's off the clock.

I think Pelecanos' work as a writer for The Wire shows up here in the novel, which seems more economical in the way it deals with the drug problem and how it affects people of varying stripes and from different walks of life. There are fewer musical allusions, too, though they're still present, but as less of a marker of characters' level of hipness. This was truly a "drop everything" read, even though it meant dropping the latest John Farris novel, Phantom Nights, which also turned into a memorable page-turner.

Craig Larson Plymouth, MN

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