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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Having completed his cycle of Nick Stefanos novels with 2000's Shame the Devil, George Pelecanos -- one of the classiest crime writers working in America today -- has now embarked on a brand-new series. The opening volume, Right as Rain, is set, like most of Pelecanos's fiction, in the gritty, violent milieu of contemporary Washington, D.C. Ostensibly a private-eye novel, Right as Rain is a serious, troubling work that deals with murder, drug abuse, racial tension, cultural identity, urban decay, and problematic personal relationships of every sort. Crime fiction rarely gets more ambitious, or provocative, than this.
Two very different figures dominate the narrative. The first is Derek Strange, a middle-aged black ex-policeman who has successfully operated his own detective agency (Strange Investigations) for nearly 30 years. The second is Terry Quinn, a young white man who resigned from the police force in the aftermath of a controversial shooting. In the final hours of a late-night patrol, Terry shot and killed an apparently crazed young black man who was holding a gun on an unarmed white man. The black man was later identified as off-duty policeman Chris Wilson. Right as Rain begins when Wilson's mother hires Strange to investigate the circumstances surrounding that shooting and to restore her son's good name.
Shortly afterward, Strange forms an unlikely alliance with Quinn. Their joint investigation takes them into the heart of the Washington drug culture and brings them into contact with a vivid array of characters on both sides of the law. Included among them are an insulated, untouchable drug lord named Cherokee Coleman; an assortment of policemen, corrupt and otherwise; and a pair of hapless redneck father-and-son drug mules that Elmore Leonard would be proud to call his own. They also encounter the wretched inhabitants of a Washington "junkyard," a decaying tenement populated by burned-out, dying heroin addicts. One of the inhabitants is Sondra Wilson, Chris's hopelessly addicted sister. Sondra's story stands at the heart of the narrative and gradually illuminates the unanswered questions surrounding her brother's death.
Like Elmore Leonard's City Primeval, Right as Rain is a kind of latter-day urban western, played out against an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. It's exciting, moving, unsentimental fiction distinguished throughout by its bleak evocation of the darkest corners of the urban jungle, and by its subtle, carefully shaded portrayal of race relations in contemporary America. If you haven't encountered George Pelecanos before, then please don't wait any longer. Right as Rain is an ideal place to begin.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).