Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Right as Rain by George Pelecanos

Late one night, off-duty DC police officer Chris Wilson is accidentally shot and killed by fellow officer Terry Quinn. Though his actions were declared “right as rain” by the review board, Quinn is wracked with guilt over the shooting and given the hairy eyeball by many of his fellow officers. You see, Quinn is white and Wilson was black. Quinn doesn’t consider himself a bigot (he is dating a Latina after all), but he can’t help thinking he was a little quick on the trigger because Wilson was an angry looking black man with a gun. Meanwhile, private eye Derek Strange is hired by Wilson’s mother to find out more about Chris’s death. The truth leads to drug dealers, crooked cops, a wayward sister, and an unlikely friendship.

If there’s any doubt the crime novel is the 21st Century’s answer to the 19th Century social novel, look no further for proof than George Pelecanos. His Right as Rain uses the classic framework of the private eye novel to discuss the issues of drug abuse, racial tension, and urban decay. An interesting thing about the edition I read is that it included study guide questions (mostly about the racial aspects) in the back of the book. Makes me wish I was part of a book club.

Before you start thinking this is a boring, super high-brow, capital-n Novel, it also happens to be fast-paced, well-written, and damn exciting. Both Strange and Quinn jump off the page as fully realized people, not just characters in a book. Their language and worldviews can be shared by any number of your friends. Pelecanos’s eye for detail makes the setting (DC and Silver Spring, Maryland) come alive. Those familiar with that area are in for a real treat.

Pelecanos handles his subject matter with great aplomb. When dealing with matters of race and cultural identity, it is very easy to get real preachy real fast. Much like Dennis Lehane’s A Drink Before the War (there’s another social novel author for you), the book rarely descends into beating you over the head with the author’s point of view.

Fans of crime books or books that tackle Big Ideas couldn’t ask for a better one that Pelecanos’s Right as Rain. I’ll definitely be picking up more of the Derek Strange series.

One of the best books I read last year.  Highly recommended.

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