SOUL CIRCUS - George
BY ALEX GRANT.
weaves skillfully between the moralizing and the mayhem'.
Brown and Company; Hardcover 1st edition (March 2003)
George P. Pelecanos,
whose astute and haunting crime novels focus upon the racial rift or
divide between black and white citizens in Washington D.C., has written
his third book in the Derek Strange-Terry Quinn series, which began
with RIGHT AS RAIN and was followed up with HELL TO PAY.
SOUL CIRCUS centers upon a looming gang war between rival drug gangstas,
precipitated by the gruesome murder of a young mother who ripped off
the feckless brother of kingpin Dewayne Durham for a stash of marijuana.
A host of misunderstandings pit Dewayne and his cohorts against sadistic
villain Horace McKinley and his small army of mad-dog gun-crazy
Derek Strange is a former policeman in his fifties who runs a ghetto-oriented
P.I. agency with his younger,much more volatile partner Terry Quinn,
also an ex-cop an embittered, headstrong one with a hair-trigger
temper and a definite "attitude" towards any Afro-Anerican
who disses him. Terry has never forgiven himself for accidentally
slaying a fellow policeman. Derek reins him in, serving as mentor and
Pelecanos has authored eleven mystery novels, starting with his raw
and vigorous Nick Stefanos books. His work the shining boulevards
of the U.S. capital vividly to life and populates these highways and
byways with very plausible men and women, showing an uncanny empathy
for his black fellow-citizens and crisply capturing the direst of fates
that so many young blacks inevitably have to face in a world without
parental guidance and without any hope of fulfilling work as a lifetime
prospect. Only callous, exploiting gang-lords offer them a sense of
a meaningful existence - albeit a nasty, brutal and short existence.
Strange, a man who has finally found contentment with secretary Janine
and her son Lionel, strives to set a fine example as a real man to the
many lost boys he encounters. An idealist in a world gone mad Strange
has his work cut out. But he never loses his faith in his people. Pelecanos
weaves skillfully between the moralizing and the mayhem.
**GEORGE P. PELECANOS " HELL TO PAY ".
.When I reviewed the immediate sequel to HELL TO PAY by George P. Pelecanos
- SOUL CIRCUS - I had yet to read the second of the Derek Strange-Terry
Quinn crime novels by this author. Both are deeply incisive and heartfelt
genre contributions depicting the U.S. as it really is; festering in
systemic racial antipathies.
HELL TO PAY came out in soft-covers in late February ( Warner Books
Inc.,@ $9.99 Can.) to coincide with the hard-covers publication of SOUL
CIRCUS, the third novel in Pelecanos new series.
RIGHT AS RAIN was the first Strange-Quinn outing. It is advisable to
read the second and third books in this series in succession, which
I failed to do. SOUL CIRCUS and RIGHT AS RAIN also should be read in
strict sequence for you to receive the trilogys forceful impact.
HELL TO PAY again follows the travails of Derek Strange, a tough=as-nails
but sensitive black resident of Washington D.C. In his early fifties,
Strange is an empathetic an ex-cop and a man devoted to good deeds.
His partner in the agency is the hot-tempered, hyper-touchy white ex-cop
Terry Quinn, notorious for having slain another policeman. Both men
have their demons to contend with - Quinn his drinking; Strange his
weakness for massage-parlour women. Both are on the verge of entering
far more meaningful relationships with the opposite sex. Both come to
a better understanding of women through the cases they are following.
And Derek is bonding with his secretary Janine, somewhat reluctant to
surrender his sexual freedom.
The detectives are searching for a young female runaway Jennifer Marshall,
who has been ensnared by a vicious and very smart pimp, "Worldwide"
Wilson. Also Derek is tracing the activities of a young black night-club
and promotions entrepreneur who is a reflection of his former self as
a player: a sexually exploitative stud, with little fundamental
respect for women.
As usual our heroes are assailed on all sides by touchy trigger-happy
drug merchants who suspect that they are being dissed by
everyone on the street, and who demand respect at the end of a handgun.
Strange deplores the prideful antics of these macho mercenaries who
kill willfully to prove that they are real men. Actually
they are hot-headed boys with bullets. No more than that.
Pelecanos virtues are threefold. He has a remarkable grasp of
the vernacular ; what used to be called Ebonics; authentic
black street slang in this instance. He roots his older characters deeply
in the Soul Music of the 60s and the 70s and in a devotion
to the genre of the spaghetti western, as exemplified by
the music of Ennio Morricone. And he depicts the city of Washington
with the eagle-eyes of an expert sociologist. Both Strange and Quinn
are nostalgic for an era in the nations capital that they have
idealized from their respective youths. Both are men on a mission to
fulfil the ideals of the decades that gave them hope as young men, and
that promised a far better world for both founding races.
And the writer makes us all too aware of the profound social dislocations
and the sheer misery imposed upon black Americans by an uncaring and
unfeeling rampant capitalism that disenfranchises young men of colour
every single day. Soulful folks of good intentions mired in a soul-less,
viciously anti-social milieu where the white community turns a blind
eye towards the drug plague on its very doorstep.
© Alex Grant 2003
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