Shame the Devil (D.C. Quartet Series #4)

Shame the Devil (D.C. Quartet Series #4)

3.8 6
by George Pelecanos

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The boys are back in town

Frank Farrow is a natural-born killer. Roman Otis is a fine-looking crooner who does his killing on the side. On a hot D.C. afternoon Frank and Roman hit a pizza shop called May's. When the hit was over, four people were executed. A cop was shot. A boy was dead. And when the sirens stopped wailing and the killers vanished into the heat


The boys are back in town

Frank Farrow is a natural-born killer. Roman Otis is a fine-looking crooner who does his killing on the side. On a hot D.C. afternoon Frank and Roman hit a pizza shop called May's. When the hit was over, four people were executed. A cop was shot. A boy was dead. And when the sirens stopped wailing and the killers vanished into the heat, dozens of lives were shattered forever.

Now it's three years later, and Dimitri Karras, who lost a son, is starting to live again. But Dimitri's old acquaintance, a P.I. named Nick Stefanos, has just unburied the past—by discovering the killers' identity. Suddenly the second act of a crime story is about to be told. Because the May's pizza parlor killers are coming back into town: where they'll be greeted with open arms, broken hearts, and at least one loaded gun.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"For some time George P. Pelecanos has been the best-kept secret in crime fiction — maybe all fiction ... The word among writers and those in the know has long been 'Read Pelecanos.'"
— Michael Connelly, author of Void Moon

"One of the best crime novelists alive, George Pelecanos is an American original."
— Dennis Lehane, author of Prayers for Rain

"Tough and skillful...there are action scenes as fierce as any you will read and street talk that hits the ear as smart and accurate."
San Francisco Chronicle

Also by George P. Pelecanos:

The Sweet Forever

The Dallas Morning News

"The Sweet Forever is the bomb!"
The Seattle Times

King Suckerman

"King Suckerman's got jive, juice, and a whole lotta justice."
Time Out

"A great read ... stunning and forceful."
— Michael Connelly, author of Void Moon

Available from Dell Review
Michael Connelly has called George Pelecanos "the best-kept secret in crime fiction," and he may very well be right. Pelecanos’s eight novels -- the most recent of which, Shame the Devil, has just arrived in bookstores -- are grittily authentic reflections of the violent, volatile society of Washington, DC, from the depression era to the present, and they have thus far made their author more of a cult figure than a household name. Famous or not, George Pelecanos is very, very good. He is one of a handful of young writers -- Connelly, Walter Mosley, Don Winslow, and Dennis Lehane also come to mind -- who are adding their own personal stamp to the established traditions of the crime genre and are redefining that genre for a new generation of readers.

Shame the Devil, which brings together a host of characters, major and minor, from earlier Pelecanos novels, opens on a sweltering July day in 1995. Two hardened ex-cons (Frank Farrow and Roman Otis) and one frightened amateur (Frank’s young brother, Richard) attempt to rob a Washington restaurant called May’s, with disastrous results. May’s is both a neighborhood pizza parlor and the collection point for a lucrative, small-time bookie operation. When the bagman for the operation, Carl Lewin, foolishly pulls a gun, the holdup rapidly becomes a bloodbath.

Carl Lewin is killed first, shot down by Frank Farrow. The three witnesses to that killing -- a waiter, a bartender, and a pizza chef -- are then summarily executed. After that, things continue to deteriorate. A passing policeman, William Jonas, hears the shots and arrives on the scene. In the ensuing shoot-out, Jonas kills Richard Farrow and is himself seriously wounded. Frank Farrow and Roman Otis manage to escape, but in the process they run down a five-year-old boy named Jimmy Karras, killing him instantly. Jimmy is the son of Dimitri Karras, hero of King Suckerman and The Sweet Forever, and he is one of several spirits who will dominate the background of this haunted, haunting book.

The brutal opening sequence occupies perhaps 20 pages. But, in a very real sense, everything that happens afterward is nothing more than the extended aftermath of that one crucial morning. At the end of his account of what will eventually be termed "the Pizza Parlor Murders," Pelecanos jumps across two and a half years of subsequent history, taking us to July 1998, and into the deeply unsettled lives of the friends and relatives of the various victims. Four of these people have come together to form an unofficial support group, which now meets weekly in the basement of a local church. Two of its members -- Bernie Walters and Dimitri Karras -- have lost their sons. One, Stephanie Maroulis, has lost her husband. The fourth member, Thomas Wilson, is carrying a double burden: He lost his oldest friend on the morning of the murders and is also harboring a guilty secret that is slowly eating him alive.

Pelecanos filters his narrative through the constantly shifting perspectives of these four characters and a significant number of others. Among these others are William Jonas, the paralyzed ex-policeman who was the only survivor of the May’s restaurant massacre; Frank Farrow and Roman Otis, who have unfinished business with Jonas and his family; and Nick Stefanos, the bartender/investigator who is the central figure of a number of Pelecanos novels, including A Firing Offense, Nick's Trip and Down By the River Where the Dead Men Go. Nick will play a crucial double role in this narrative. In his capacity as investigator for the Washington Public Defender’s Office, he uncovers some previously unknown facts about the 1995 killings and becomes a reluctant participant in the novel’s violent denouement. In his role as bartender for a local bar-and-grill called The Spot, he offers Dimitri Karras a part-time job and helps Karras begin the process of reconnecting with the world.

Shame the Devil is a moving, immensely readable novel that operates successfully on a number of levels. First of all, it is a tense, intelligent, well-constructed thriller. Second, it is a novel of character, illuminating the lives of a wide variety of people -- small-time hustlers, psychopathic killers, angst-ridden parents, alcoholic cops, and abused housewives -- with the ease and assurance of a born novelist. Most centrally, it is a novel about grief, guilt, and personal redemption, and it has much to say about the indelible effects of violence on victims and survivors and about the ongoing struggle to find some shred of meaning in a harsh, often predatory, universe. By whatever standards you care to apply, Shame the Devil is a first-rate work of fiction. It deserves the attention of genre aficionados and of serious, discriminating readers of every sort.

--Bill Sheehan

Philadelphia Inquirer
Colorful, often violent, always passionate, it's a remarkable group of players that Pelecanos has assembled for his continuing saga of the seamy side of Washington, D.C....vivid storytelling by a writer whose sense of the theatrical is a formidable strength...
Michael Shelden
Like all his crime thrillers, this new novel is a thoroughly convincing story set on the mean streets of Washington, D.C., and is packed with vivid portraits of the petty criminals whose ignorance and rage have fueled the metropolitan crime epidemic.
Baltimore Sun
San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
...a masterpiece of fictional construction...exciting reading, providing a wonderful tour of the dark streets of D.C. and the dark hearts of the lost souls who live there. Pelecanos has an insider's love for detail.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When the shooting stops on a blistering summer day at May's Pizza Parlor in Washington, D.C., in 1995, five people lie dead, a policeman is left crippled and robber Frank Farrow speeds off with his loot and not a trace of regret. But Farrow, the main villain in Pelecanos's fine new addition to his hard-boiled lineup, still isn't satisfied. He wants to return to finish off the injured cop, who killed Farrow's brother during the shoot-out. Farrow doesn't anticipate, however, the burning desire for revenge harbored by the family and friends of those butchered in the notorious pizza bloodbath. Chief among them is 50-ish Dimitri Karras, whose five-year-old son died when he was mowed down by the getaway vehicle Farrow was driving. Now, three years later, Karras is just getting his life back together, much like the other survivors, all of whom meet regularly to share their grief and soothe their torment. By chance, Karras teams up with Nick Stephanos, a freelance investigator who finds out Farrow is back in town to exact his twisted vengeance. Stephanos tries to dissuade Karras from tracking down Farrow, but even he understands the urge for retaliation. Karras and Stephanos, who have starred in several of Pelecanos's earlier books (King Suckerman; The Sweet Forever), deepen considerably as characters in this hard-driving story of heartache, Stephanos's adjustment to the new-found maturity of middle age and Dmitri's search for some small relief in revenge. Set against a backdrop of greasy-spoon diners, church basements, dive bars and sparsely furnished apartments, the narrative is unsettlingly harsh yet captivatingly tender, the gritty back-and-forth of everyday urban life vividly etched. 11-city author tour. (Jan.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The setting is Washington, DC, where everybody lies, cheats, and steals, but the characters of Pelecanos's (King Suckerman) new novel would have a tough time wangling an invite to the White House. This time the robbery of a pizza parlor in 1995 leads to the death of an innocent boy, the son of Dimitri Karras, back from earlier efforts by Pelecanos. The plot is the very leisurely working out of the aftermath of that robbery. Much of the action (and talk) center on The Spot, a neighborhood bar/gathering place where Karras gets a job as a dishwasher. The talk--which, with Pelecanos's ear for dialog, is good--moves from family to neighborhood and sometimes even to the Pizza Parlor murders. A bit of Dashiell Hammett as filtered through the lens of Spike Lee, Shame the Devil can be recommended to anyone who fancies neighborhood stories exchanged on the stoop at sunset. Those looking for a fast-paced page-turner might pass. For urban and larger public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/99.]--Bob Lunn, Kansas City P.L., MO Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
...all elements of a typical hard-boiled crime novel are here...but Pelecanos's character-driven plot shows that noir doesn't have to be a shopworn style ready for the parody bin.
Jesse Berrett
Pelecanos does sex and snappy patter as well as the next he-man—but it misses his hipster's soul, his feel for community coalescence and collapse, and most of all his sensitivity to pop culture as the pulse of humanity...this novel still dares to escape the genre straitjacket and defer its violence to just before the point of endurance. It's a thriller with an ethnic accent, brains, balls, and everything in between.
The Village Voice

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
D.C. Quartet Series, #4
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.13(w) x 6.83(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

The car was a boxy late-model Ford sedan, white over black, innocuous bordering on invisible, and very fast. It had been a sheriff's vehicle originally, bought at auction in Tennessee, and further modified for speed.

The car rolled north on Wisconsin beneath a blazing white sun. The men inside wore long-sleeved shirts, tails out. Their shirtfronts were spotted with sweat and their backs were slick with it. The black vinyl on which they sat was hot to the touch. From the passenger seat, Frank Farrow studied the street. The sidewalks were empty. Foreign-made automobiles moved along quietly, their occupants cool and cocooned. Heat mirage shimmered up off asphalt. The city was narcotized — it was that kind of summer day.

"Quebec," said Richard Farrow, his gloved hands clutching the wheel. He pushed his aviator shades back up over the bridge of his nose, and as they neared the next cross street he said, "Upton."

"You've got Thirty-ninth up ahead," said Frank. "You want to take that shoot-off, just past Van Ness."

"I know it," said Richard. "You don't have to tell me again because I know."

"Take it easy, Richard."

"All right."

In the backseat, Roman Otis softly sang the first verse to "One in a Million You," raising his voice just a little to put the full Larry Graham inflection into the chorus. He had heard the single on WHUR earlier that morning, and the tune would not leave his head.

The Ford passed through the intersection at Upton.

Otis looked down at his lap, where the weight of his shotgun had begun to etch a deep wrinkle in his linen slacks. Well, he should have known it. All you had to do was look at linen to make it wrinkle, that was a plain fact. Still, a man needed to have a certain kind of style to him when he left the house for work. Otis placed the sawed-off on the floor, resting its stock across the toes of his lizard-skin monk straps. He glanced at the street-bought Rolex strapped to his left wrist: five minutes past ten a.m.

Richard cut the Ford up 39th.

"There," said Frank. "That Chevy's pulling out."

"I see it," said Richard.

They waited for the Chevy. Then Frank said, "Put it in."

Richard swung the Ford into the space and killed the engine. They were at the back of a low-rise commercial strip that fronted Wisconsin Avenue. The door leading to the kitchen of the pizza parlor, May's, was situated in the center of the block. Frank wiped moisture from his brush mustache and ran a hand through his closely cropped gray hair.

"There's the Caddy," said Otis, noticing the black DeVille parked three spaces ahead.

Frank nodded. "Mr. Carl's making the pickup. He's inside."

"Let's do this thing," said Otis.

"Wait for our boy to open the door," said Frank. He drew two latex examination gloves from a tissue-sized box and slipped them over the pair he already had on his hands. He tossed the box over his shoulder to the backseat. "Here. Double up."

Roman Otis raised his right hand, where a silver ID bracelet bearing the inscription "Back to Oakland" hung on his wrist. He let the bracelet slip down inside the French cuff of his shirt. He put the gloves on carefully, then reflexively touched the butt of the .45 fitted beneath his shirt. He caught a glimpse of his shoulder-length hair, recently treated with relaxer, in the rearview mirror. Shoot, thought Otis, Nick Ashford couldn't claim to have a finer head of hair on him. Otis smiled at his reflection, his one gold tooth catching the light. He gave himself a wink.

"Frank," said Richard.

"We'll be out in a few minutes," said Frank. "Don't turn the engine over until you see us coming back out."

"I won't," said Richard, a catch in his voice.

The back kitchen door to May's opened. A thin black man wearing a full apron stepped out with a bag of trash. He carried the trash to a Dumpster and swung it in, bouncing it off the upraised lid. On his way back to the kitchen he eye-swept the men in the Ford. He stepped back inside, leaving the door ajar behind him.

"That him?" asked Otis.

"Charles Greene," said Frank.

"Good boy."

Frank checked the .22 Woodsman and the .38 Bulldog holstered beneath his oxford shirt. The guns were snug against his guinea-T. He looked across the bench at his kid brother, sweating like a hard-run horse, breathing through his mouth, glassy eyed, scared stupid.

"Remember, Richard. Wait till you see us come out."

Richard Farrow nodded one time.

Roman Otis lifted the shotgun, slipped it barrel down into his open shirt, fitting it in a custom-made leather holster hung over his left side. It would show; there wasn't any way to get around it. But they would be going straight in, and they would move fast.

"Let's go, Roman," said Frank.

Otis said, "Right." He opened the car door and touched his foot to the street.

"C'mon," said Lisa Karras, "put your arms up, Jimmy."

Lisa's son raised his hands and then dropped them as she tried to fit the maroon-and-gold shirt over his head. He wiggle-wormed out of the shirt, giggled as he backed up against a scarred playroom wall. Looking at him, Lisa laughed too.

There were mornings when she would be trying to get him off to school or get herself to an appointment and Jimmy would keep pushing her buttons until she'd lose her temper in a big way. But this was not one of those mornings. Jimmy had been out of kindergarten since June, and Lisa had not picked up any freelance design work in the last month. This was just a slow morning on a hot summer day. The two of them had nothing but time.

"Hey, kiddo, I thought you said you wanted some ice cream."

Jimmy Karras zoomed over and raised his arms. Lisa got the short-sleeved Redskins jersey on him before he had a chance to squirm out of it, then sat him down and fitted a pair of miniature Vans sneakers on his feet.

"Double knots, Mom."

"You got it."

Jimmy stood up and raced off. He skipped once, something he did without thought when he was happy, on the way to the door.

Ice cream at ten a.m. Lisa almost laughed, thinking of what her peers would have to say about that. Most of the other mothers in the neighborhood were content to sit their kids down in front of the television set on hot days like this. But Lisa couldn't stand to be in the house all day, no matter the weather. And she knew that Jimmy liked to get out too. A trip to the ice cream store would be just fine.

Jimmy stood on his toes at the front door, trying to turn the lock. A rabbit's foot hung from a key chain fixed to a belt loop of his navy blue shorts. The rabbit's foot was white and gray, with toenails curling out of the fur. Lisa had given her husband, Dimitri, a few sharp words when he had brought it home from the surplus store, but she had let the matter drop when she saw her son's eyes widen at the sight of it. The rabbit's foot was one of those strange items — pocketknives, lighters, firecrackers — that held a mutual fascination for fathers and sons. She had long since given up on trying to understand.

Meet the Author

George Pelecanos is the author of several highly praised and bestselling novels, including The Cut, What It Was, The Way Home, The Turnaround, and The Night Gardener. He is also an independent-film producer, an essayist, and the recipient of numerous international writing awards. He was a producer and Emmy-nominated writer for The Wire and currently writes for the acclaimed HBO series Treme. He lives in Maryland.

Brief Biography

Silver Spring, Maryland
Date of Birth:
February 18, 1957
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
B.A., University of Maryland at College Park, 1980

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Shame the Devil 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
RobertDowns More than 1 year ago
If all of George Pelecanos’s novels present sex in a manner similar to SHAME THE DEVIL, he’s probably a poster child for why men should leave the sex scenes to women. Recent novels I’ve read written by women offer up mind numbing orgasms, pop your socks off titillation, and stimulating suspense followed by window shattering climaxes. This novel, on the other hand, offers up heavy breasts, cupcake-sized nipples, and fingernail ripping orgasms, while slamming into her on the edge of the bed. Sure, sex is great, but it’s all about quality not quantity. What really tipped this novel on the unfavorable scale for me was the writing style, though. Mr. Pelecanos can certainly spin a yarn or two or three, but I had trouble enjoying the ride up the hill, and I certainly felt the drop a bit too much when we started down the other side. The journey felt a bit forced, and the climax a bit anticlimactic for my taste. What really gets my motor running in hard-boiled novels is the action, but I was a bit disappointed by this particular effort. Instead of poetic punches and staccato sentences, it was more like a fisherman casting his line at midnight with a broken reel while wearing sunglasses and having consumed about six beers too many. The women all seemed a bit flat, although none of them would ever be mistaken for flat chested. And there was a distinct and rather prominent dividing line between the good guys and the bad guys with the bad guys avoiding all traces of humanity. I plan to give Mr. Pelecanos another go, with WHAT IT WAS. Robert Downs Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
McCarthy92 More than 1 year ago
George Pelecanos is my favorite writer. His prose is great, I love his characters and his story-telling, and most of all, he is one cool guy; from the music to the clothes to the car, all of his books ooze cool and Shame the Devil is no different. This is the conclusion to his D.C. quartet, one of my favorite series of books. I never get into story, because I don't like to spoil it, but many readers will like this, but I wouldn't be surprised if some women didn't like at much as men. Pelecanos definitely writes books for men. Regardless of your gender, this is a great book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was looking forward to this last installment, but I think Pelecanos lost his way, here. The dialogue is often stilted -- not what you expect in one of Pelecanos's novels -- and without purpose. I didn't particularly buy the premise of the core action -- villains returning. I was disappointed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Shame The Devil is the first book I've read by George Pelecanos -- but it certainly won't be the last. As a matter of fact, I've already bought his latest mystery, Right As Rain. Shame The Devil is chocked full of the qualities you want in a book -- interesting main plot and sub-plots, very well-developed 'good guys(particuarly Nick Stefanos)and 'bad guys', lots of action, strong, realistic dialogue and a writing style that makes you want to turn the pages as fast as you can. The only quality that I found to be a bit unrealistic is the degree of knowledge so many of the characters have about different styles of music. At this point, Dennis Lehane is my favorite mystery writer but Pelecanos has the potential to be his equal. Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Shame The Devil. Enjoy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
George P. Pelecanos new novel Shame the Devil avoids most of the cliches that abound in crime fiction. The violence around which the novel's story is based is intense, but very sparingly used leaving a lot of room for story telling and character development that transcends most crime novels. The number of characters can be confusing to the reader at first. But once the novel has its legs Pelecanos manages to challenge the reader's concept of justice. He takes on institutions and individuals responsible for seeing justice is done, pulling apart their motives and emotions. Almost everyone in this novel is seeking a form of justice or spiritual peace. It is worth a read to find out who finds it.