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by George Pelecanos
Little, Brown, March 2005
304 pages
ISBN: 0316608211

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Lorenzo Brown is trying to go straight. He's out of prison after serving eight years for drugs offences, and is back in his old Washington DC neighbourhood. And he's got a respectable job -- protecting animals as a Humane Society officer. He has an A1 parole officer, Rachel Lopez who, despite demons of her own, is committed to keeping ex-offenders like Lorenzo out of jail.

A lot of his old mates are still around, though, and most are on the wrong side of the law. This includes Nigel Johnson, Lorenzo's boyhood friend and now top dog in a gang which is permanently at war with others in the city. And despite all his good intentions, it looks like Lorenzo will be forced to choose between his new and old life when a killer goes on the rampage.

It's not usually that easy to sum up a 300+ page book in two paragraphs, and don't go away thinking that DRAMA CITY is a simple book. It's absolutely not, mainly due to the searing quality of the characterisation.

It's a stately, unhurried book, rather like a sharp black and white film where the images remain imprinted in your brain for a long time afterwards. A week after reading the book I can still picture Lorenzo about his work rescuing abused dogs, or breaking up an illegal dog fight with his colleague Mark, or the recurring theme of the support group meetings with the angry loner Sarge or drug addict Shirley, continually bumming cigarettes off Rachel, who is desperate to be reunited with her daughter.

No one in their right mind reads Pelecanos for crash, bang, wallop action. What you do get is a writer with the most incredible eye for his territory and an unquenchable interest in what makes people tick. The characterisation and deceptively relaxed writing style is a lesson for anyone writing any sort of fiction, genre or otherwise.

DRAMA CITY is a lesson, too, in that underwriting is so much more effective than overwriting -- Rico Miller is one of the most chilling creations I've read in crime fiction. Pelecanos is an intelligent, clear-eyed writer on the top of his form and continents ahead of most of the pack.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, February 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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