George Peleconos, Right as Rain


George Pelecanos is an American crime writer with tough heroes. He excels at depicting the sticky urban landscape of Washington D.C., and is now in the front rank.

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Dennis Lehane and other notables such as James Sallis have remarked that George Pelecanos is among the finest ten or twelve novelists working in the US today. Pelecanos is a rare thing – a unique writer that works as a crime writer. He writes books that push against the conventions of the genre; that describe the alienation of the urban landscape with an intense alacrity; he uses the private eye form to expose racial issues, and then if that is not enough he dissembles the socio-ethnic concerns of decades in his books. Right as Rain is the first in the series with two former cops – black funk-loving private eye Derek Strange (and his dog) and white Irish sometime colleague Terry Quinn, a Western used bookstore assistant. They are tarnished heroes that throw a light on the interests of the author, and of course, on the rough and tumble of life in the ghetto. It follows the D.C. Quartet, a group of books that transformed Pelecanos from a little known, but critically acclaimed crime writer to a seminal writer of a string of hard-hitting noir novels.

Plotline from the author’s website: Derek Strange is black and successful. Terry Quinn is white and barely holding on. Now Strange has been hired to investigate a police shooting in which Quinn played a major role. For Strange, a savvy and careful man, the investigation goes against his style and instinct. For Terry Quinn, Strange’s questions are a chance to absolve his conscience and shake out a little truth. But in a city that lives in the shadow of a nation’s dream, neither man can foresee the dirty little war that will break out around them … or how deadly being right can be.

Dennis Lehane, a leading figure in the rebirth of American noir as a contributing force to the best in fiction provides a nice tribute in his appreciation. Right as Rain was issued in an ordinary edition of 99 numbered and signed copies, and a further 15 deluxe lettered were produced for private distribution. Only a few ordinary copies are available.

5.00 out of 5

3 reviews for George Peleconos, Right as Rain

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rating by Dennis Lehane on May 7, 2012 :

    From the appreciation of George Pelecanos by Dennis Lehane

    “To read Pelecanos is to stumble into the richest experience a reader can have – to hear a voice of confidence, wit, humor and sheer, effortless story telling ability that is also a voice never heard before you read that first page. A voice that leaves an imprint of stark originality on your brain. In Right As Rain we are introduced to two more characters who fall into this Pelecanos tradition. Derek Strange, a private investigator, is proud and strong, a black man who wrestles every day with the reality of being a mistrusted minority in a world where the deck has been stacked against him since long before he was born. Hired to look into the case of an off-duty black police officer who was shot to death by his white, brother officers, Strange forms a shaky, tentative relationship with Terry Quinn, the ex-cop who fired the fatal shot. Eager not only to clear the air of any lingering doubt in regards to what happened the night of the shooting, (and maybe to reconcile the events with himself), Terry Quinn is a conflicted bomb of a man. Prone to sudden spurts of violence, in denial of his own entrenched racism, Quinn is the latest addition to the Pelecanos rogue’s gallery of deeply flawed anti-heros. And one of the tenser questions of the novel becomes not simply if Quinn’s trigger-finger was too quick in the past, but whether Strange will be able to curb the man’s lethal impulses in the present. For most writers this set-up would provide ample opportunity for them to come to comfortable terms with social issues that are a bit messier in real life, namely race and class warfare, to package them appealingly and in such a way that the white characters and the white readers can sleep comfortably in the knowledge that race is still predominately “their” problem, not “ours.” But Pelecanos, far from shying away or sugar-coating the questions, runs headlong at them and comes back with answers maybe we (and he) would have preferred to leave undisturbed”.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rating by Rick Kleffel on May 7, 2012 :

    “The classic American Private Detective is a “straight shooter”, the direct kind of guy who will tell you what he thinks and nothing else, no editorializing, no bullshit. Entire forests have fallen to tell his tale. Its simplicity allows endless variations, innumerable permutations, a variety so vast as to encompass all genres of literature. Lost in this forest, unseeable amidst the trees are the virtues that make this type of tale so appealing. Readers, writers and critics often speak of “hard-boiled” mystery fiction without thinking through the implications. At its best, mystery can in fact boil away the unnecessary elements of fiction, stripping down the tale told to the characters and their actions. Everything else is excess.
    George Pelecanos takes the hard-boiled technique one step further. He strips down prose itself to the bare bones, ruthlessly eliminating everything between the reader and the story. ‘Right as Rain’, his 2001 novel, introduces Derek Strange to Terry Quinn. Strange is a fifty-something African American detective who generally works the divorce/infidelity/small-claims court circuit. He’s an ex-cop, a man of few words, trying to stay back from the action. At the request of a grieving mother, he agrees to take up a case outside of his normal beat. Leona Wilson wants Strange to help her exonerate her son Chris, a black beat cop who, while off-duty and apparently trying to arrest a white man for littering, was mistakenly shot by a white cop. Strange finds himself being pulled inexorably to just the kind of situation and people he’d prefer to avoid. The white cop, Terry Quinn, is an intense man who left the force though the shooting was found to be as “right as rain”. Methodically working the case, Strange calls upon Quinn, and the two find they have a common interest in uncovering the full truth behind the shooting.
    Pelecanos delivers his story in prose that’s so stripped down, it’s practically existential. From the hilarious opening scene of the novel, where Strange hands over evidence of infidelity to a man who’s not ready for the news, Pelecanos skillfully demonstrates a restraint that is well beyond admirable. On one hand, he manages to steer clear of any precious stylization. On the other, he forges a style so pure it ceases to exist. The effect of Pelecanos’ prose style is that the reader is fully immersed in any scene that he writes. The reader will essentially forget that they’re reading and simply experience the story, simple, primitive, raw. It makes ‘Right as Rain’ a fast, easy read. But it also enables Pelecanos to write scenes of great power. There’s no transition, no ramp-up from simple story to explosively intense. Pelecanos is an expert at getting out of his own way. He makes laconic an art form.
    But Pelecanos has a lot more going for him than zen and the art of mystery maintenance. He’s able to keep things simple because he has an encyclopedic knowledge of his characters. Strange and Quinn are very different from one another, and viewed with the same prose lens, their differences stand out nicely. However, many readers might find Pelecanos’ lowlifes equally if not more entertaining. Ray and Earl Boone are a father-and-son team of hardscrabble hicks who have a powerful homebrew of methamphetamine cooking in their barroom-decorated barn. They sell meth and run heroin from the Colombians to a DC dealer named Cherokee Coleman. Coleman, the Boones, their lieutenants, hangers-on and women alternate between frightening and funny. These guys aren’t the world’s stupidest criminals, but they didn’t choose this career because they found it more challenging than rocket science. However, their solution to the problems they create is stone-cold killing. Their schemes ring true as death. They’re not complex, but they are fascinating. The author seems to have either lived the life or spent a lot of time talking to those who did. Pelecanos lets his transparent prose show both sides of the characters without imposing judgment. It’s like watching a snake eat a rat.
    Pelecanos is not afraid to get behind the emotional lives of his protagonists, which are complex and unpleasant enough to keep them mostly away from Kodak moments. Strange has a love interest, but he’s not really willing to admit it to himself, and instead seeks sordid relief in anonymous arms. Quinn, on the other hand, is forced to admit that his love of violence is leading him away from his second career as a used-bookseller and back into pummeling the people he thinks are bad. These are the same emotions that led him to shoot Chris Wilson. Quinn and Strange don’t exactly become buddies, but they do learn some respect. Gruff is the order of the day.
    Given that Strange is black and Quinn is not only white, but a white cop who shot a black cop, racial tensions are ever-present and plainly portrayed. There are no easy answers. In fact, hard non-answers are all that’s on offer. Again and again, characters ask if Quinn would have shot a white man in the same circumstances. There’s no feel-good workaround, no happy medium. The fact is, in ‘Right as Rain’, whites and blacks are uneasy in one another’s presence, and though they can get around it, it takes a visible effort by all involved. The tension is never really resolved, which some readers may find problematic, while others will find it emblematic. In any event, the theme is intelligently and clearly presented.
    All of this wouldn’t necessarily make ‘Right as Rain’ a great novel unless Pelecanos could bring it together with a satisfying plot. Here’s where his restraint once again serves him well. What proves to be a very artful and well-plotted novel reads with a clarity that renders every consequence of every action in an utterly naturalistic prose. It’s like a documentary film. Only as the threads assemble themselves is the reader even able to realize the skill that’s gone into the creation and assembly of all the pieces. Pelecanos fearlessly edits out the commentary and focuses on the characters and story. His prose is a black-and-white camera snapping scenes with crystal clarity. No need to adjust the focus. Pelecanos is in control. Kick back and enjoy the work of a straight-shooting writer who does with language what his gumshoes do with guns”. Reviewed by Rick Kleffel on the Angry Column on the web.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rating by The Thrilling on May 7, 2012 :

    Let’s just play the race card now, and get it over with.
    DEREK STRANGE is black. He’s an former cop, now in his fifties, who runs his own Washington, D.C. detective agency. He carries a buck knife and may get a little slick at times, but he’s respected within his neighbourhood as a decent, quietly compassionate kinda guy, a devoted, church-going son with a dying mother and deep ties to his community. He has a boxer named Greco for a pet and a taste for the soundtracks of old westerns and, this being Pelecanos after all, the funk and soul music of the sixties and seventies.
    His agency, Strange Investigations, is basically Derek, plus Ron Lattimer, his yuppiesh assistant, and Janine Baker, his long-time office manager/secretary/assistant and sometime lover.
    In Right As Rain (2001), the book which kicks off the series, Derek is hired by Leona Wilson, the grieving mother of a young black police officer, to clear her son’s damaged reputation. Her son, Christopher was killed in the line-of-duty, but he was killed by a white cop in a notorious and well-publicized incident a year previously. The white shooter, TERRY QUINN, although cleared in an official investigation which found the shooting to be as “right as rain,” is plagued by guilt, and tormented by thoughts that his own racism led to the shooting. He’s quit the police department, and works in a used bookstore. But in the course of the investigation, Derek finds himself teaming up with Terry to work the case, and an uneasy friendship between the two former cops, one black, one white, begins to develop.
    Terry is younger, more prone to violence and anger, more impulsive than the cool, collected Derek. When we first meet Terry, he’s working in a used bookstore, reading westerns, and taking long walks along deserted city streets, trying to sort out his life. His musical tastes tend toward blue collar rock. Before the typical Pelecanos shootout in Right as Rain, he preps himself by playing Springsteen.
    And, indeed, music fills the air, as it always does, in Pelecanos’ work. Other musicians name-dropped include The Clash, Otis Redding, The Blackbyrds, Ennio Morricone, Stanley Clarke, George Jones, James Brown and Randy Travis.
    In Pelecanos’ novels, music, even more than movies and books, are the great cultural signifier’s, and he uses them with scalpel-like precision, dissecting a swirling array of issues. Especially, in Right As Rain, the issues of race and prejudice.
    And if anyone can tear deep into the heart of the race issue, it’s Pelecanos, who has always shown a deft hand at plumbing the dark undertones of America’s obsessions with race. He not only defiantly plays race cards, he plays them with glee, and makes them do tricks.
    Right As Rain is just one powerful, kick-ass book. Not only does he tackle issues of race, but he delivers some of his most compelling characters yet (the shitkicker father-son team of drug runners have to be read to believe), and delivers one hell of a finale, all rendered in a terse, matter-of-fact style that recalls Dashiell Hammett at times or Joe Gores’ DKA novels. And even better was the fact that Right as Rain was followed by Hell To Pay (2002) and the heart-rending Soul Circus (2003), which seemed to wrap up the series”. The Thrilling

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