Mystery Books for Sale

[ Home ]
[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]


by George Pelecanos
Little, Brown, March 2004
400 pages
ISBN: 0316155640

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

George Pelecanos is one of the most compelling crime writers of the present generation. He's got two must-read series -- one featuring Nick Stefanos and also the Strange/Quinn novels -- alongside a raft of standalones. HARD REVOLUTION must count as one of his finest achievements.

It's actually a prequel, set in 1959 and 1968. At the centre of the novel is the young Derek Strange, who we will meet again in other books as a Washington DC private eye. Here, though, Strange is first a teenager and then a rookie cop. We are also introduced to his parents -- father Darius, a chef in a Greek diner; mother Alethea, a cleaning lady, and waster brother Dennis.

Strange's story, though, is interwoven with a number of others. And as a backdrop to all these is the political and racial unrest of the time. Here, ordinary people are superimposed onto a turbulent part of US history. Pelecanos's narrative is dispassionately told. People survive as best they can in difficult times, doing things they're not proud of.

The book is beautifully paced. For one worrying moment during the first 40 or 50 pages, I thought it was all too slow and the threads unrelated to each other. But then you realise Pelecanos is guiding you along with him as his measured tone lays out the waste and injustice of a generation. And, of course, if you have read the later books, you realise this waste applies equally to subsequent generations as well as those that have gone before.

HARD REVOLUTION reads like the sharpest of black and white photos as personal and political collide. The snapshots are so vivid -- damaged war veteran Dominic and his Italian widow mother tasting pasta sauce together; white cop Troy and black cop Derek in the diner and in the car talking -- or not talking -- about their families. People are going about their everyday lives as extraordinary events happen around them.

The characters are equally vivid, portrayed in that even, matter of fact tone. Evil here is everyday. Everyone has some flaw -- there's the drug dealer who's not a bad man or a good man. And Vaughn, the tenacious detective, has another woman on the side, and knows he doesn't spend enough time with his son.

One reason I have always loved Pelecanos is that his books feel like they have a music soundtrack playing in the background. Characters discuss music a great deal, and there's often radios or jukeboxes playing. So it's perfectly logical that a CD is being released alongside this book, containing the likes of Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Otis Redding and Albert King.

The first few chapters are particularly telling if you've read the later books in the series. They throw light on Strange's relationship with Quinn much later when the pair are working together as PIs. There's context, too, for Nick Stefanos, Pelecanos's other series.

HARD REVOLUTION can be read on several levels. It certainly provides us with the context to understand what shapes the character of Derek Strange, the cop-turned-PI. But you needn't have read the later books -- this will be a fine introduction to a stunning writer at the height of his powers.

Reviewer's note: The book is also available in the UK, published by Orion (12.99GBP)

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, March 2004

[ Top ]



Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]
[ Home ]