About Us

Contact Us



Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters

SOUL CIRCUS - George P. Pelecanos

'Pelecanos weaves skillfully between the moralizing and the mayhem'.

Little, Brown and Company; Hardcover 1st edition (March 2003)
ISBN: 0316608432
$24.95 US

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 street studs.

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 father-figure.

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.


.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 trilogy’s 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 nation’s 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

More Reviews

< Back to Index
< Reply to this Article

© Hackwriters 2000-2003 all rights reserved