I can't remember when George P. Pelecanos' name first hit my consciousness. I think that the Mt. Benson Report might have told me about the "washington quartet" when he was living out there. I saw his name on the credits for The Wire. My interest was definitely sparked when listening to an interview with David Simon, the head writer for the Wire, when he said that he hired writers who were genre writers and wrote about cities in the northeast U.S. rather than TV writers and he specifically mentioned Pelecanos. So he was on my list and how pleasantly surprised was I when Meezly gave me the four of his books that make up the Washington Quartet for my birthday!
I have to admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed getting 4 books, all by the same author. I am obsessed these days with getting my on-deck shelf narrowed down and this just re-widened it! However, once I jumped into The Big Blowdown, my worries went away, because I tore through that book. I could barely put it down. I found myself going to the bathroom unnecessarily in order to get some more reading in.
After, a brief intro during the depression and then the war itself, the rest of Big Blowdown takes place in the poor immigrant section (centered particularly around the Greek community) of Washington, D.C. after the Second World War. It's the story of a young man who has some guts and some character, who gets trapped between the crime community that seems to be his default career path and a more normal life that is also a possibility. It isn't a morality tale, though. The plot careens forward and there isn't a lot of hand-wringing or moralizing. The main character makes his choices and is well aware of them. This is not one of those books where the characters do stupid or weak things and that is used to make the plot move forward.
The setting is so rich and detailed, both at the surface level and the deeper historical trends, that the narrative seems natural and inevitable. The character constantly remarks on how much he loves the city and it is obvious that the author does too. I never considered Washington, D.C. to be interesting but Pelecanos has changed my mind about that. What a world! Nightclubs, diners, butcher shops, all kinds of immigrants making their way, slowly accepting or running away from the growing black community. The characters in these locations are real as is the language they use. Very cool stuff.
I see now that the Big Blowdown is a backstory about, I believe, the father of one of his later regular characters. It's a cool way to start and I am really psyched to see how he writes D.C. in later periods. I'm not worried so much about the impact of these books on my on-deck shelf. Rather, I am going to have to pace myself if the other 3 in the quartet are as interesting as this one.