Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Drama City, by George Pelecanos

Lorenzo Brown is an ex-con who wants nothing more than to stay on the straight-and-narrow. He’s got a decent job at the Humane Society and a rescue dog as his closest companion. Rachel Lopez is Lorenzo’s probation officer, a by-the-book cop by day but a wild child who has sex with random strangers at night.

This is my first read of George Pelecanos’s fiction. It definitely shares some common elements with his work on The Wire: the street patter, the attitude of the various characters toward the police (and life in general), and the air of Greek tragedy. And, like on The Wire, “nothing happens” for long stretches of time.

But that’s how these things work. Drama City is more slice-of-life and shining a light on things most of us never think of in our cushy lives than it is about the Big Ideas or adrenaline rush of other crime books. Pelecanos has a real way with words; not flashy, but perfect in showing what he wants to show.

For most of the first part of the novel, Lorenzo reminded me of The Wire’s Cutty. His stint in prison has wised him up. He realizes “the game” is for young guns. He realizes the violence and the hate and the posturing is all sound and fury signifying nothing. Toward the end of the book events have occurred that upset Lorenzo’s apple cart and you are truly worried that he’ll return to his former life.

I dig the character of Rachel Lopez. Her dueling personality (straight-laced cop vs addict/slut) was a very interesting concept that I wish had been explored further. Without getting into specifics, something happens to her while on the job that triggers the pent-up rage inside Lorenzo. While the incident fuels the last third of the book, Lopez herself is largely off page. Her night life seems to have been added more as color than as something to define her character.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read. It seemed very real and there are some colorful characters. My problems are that what’s driving the characters’ actions isn’t always clear and Lorenzo is a bit too passive as a protagonist. I understand he’s trying to stay straight, but sometimes I wanted to yell at him to DO SOMETHING.

If someone recommends another Pelecanos book, I’ll certainly make note of it and add it to the list. But I’m not going to run out and buy another one tomorrow.

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