The Sweet Forever is the third in the Washington Quartet (though seeing his other books, many of which take place in D.C., I'm not quite sure of the solidity of that label). It takes place ten years after the events in King Suckerman. The funk and chaos of the 70s have morphed into something more serious, something emptier. Everybody is doing blow and making money. The ghetto and the criminals have gotten harder and colder. Dmitri Karras and Marcus Clay are still the main protagonists. Marcus' record stores (of which there was just the one in King Suckerman) are succesful. Dmitri is a manager there and addicted to cocaine.
Whereas King Suckerman, the crime and danger element came in sort of randomly (a bunch of psychos on a crime spree), here it has become an indelible part of the landscape, a constant threat that inevitably pushes itself into the lives of anyone who stays in the city. A car crashes into a telephone pole outside the record store in the rough part of town (Marcus Clay is trying to revitalize the economy; his other stores are in the college areas or hip, white parts of town). A guy waiting for his girl to pick up some coke from Dmitri sees it happen and steals a pillowcase full of dope money from the wreck before the cops show up. The hunt is on. There are many characters, most of them broken or on their way to being damaged: street children recruited by the gangs, corrupt cops, rednecks, mothers trying to hold it down.
It's a quick and entertaining read, but I wasn't so sure about this one. It was much more moralistic than the first two, and yet it didn't go anywhere that new. It lacked the random chaos of King Suckerman and the rich, social depth of the Big Blowdown. It also never really punched. Marcus Clay is an ex-vietnam vet and he does some cool stuff, but not enough to get you really jazzed. This would be fine except that the way the ending develops, you think there is going to be another big violent clash where the old school guys show up the new ghetto young bucks. It doesn't really happen.
You do see the oncoming threat of crack and the insane corruption and incompetence in the political leaders. But there is more lamenting and moralizing than depth of place and character and it left the book a bit thin. It's cool the way he has populated a universe. From blurbs of his other books, I can see several characters that popped up in The Sweet Forever have their own intriguing stories. I'm going to give some time before reading the fourth and final book in the quartet. Hopefully it will walk the line between genre thriller and social consciousness book more adroitly.