Monday, August 5, 2013

A Trip Back in Time with Derek Strange

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

In 2001, in Right as Rain, George Pelecanos introduced Derek Strange, an ex-cop turned private detective in Washington D.C., where virtually all of Pelecanos's books are set. Strange would ultimately appear in three other novels, and this book makes the fifth.

On a rainy afternoon in 2011, Strange, who is now on the wrong side of sixty, is sitting in a bar with his pal, Nick Stefanos. A song comes up on the jukebox, as songs are wont to do in a George Pelecanos novel, and it sets Strange to reminiscing about events in the summer of 1972, the summer of the Watergate burglary that would ultimately bring down the Nixon presidency.

Over a long afternoon and several drinks, Strange proceeds to tell Stefanos the story of Red "Fury" Jones. At the time, Strange was just off the police force, beginning his own agency, and so strapped for cash that he couldn't even afford a proper sign out front. A sexy young woman walks into his office and hires Strange to recover a ring that she claims to have inherited from her grandmother. It's just cheap costume jewelry, she says, but it has great sentimental value.

For some reason, the woman had given the ring to a friend who is also a drug addict so that he could have it appraised for her. The story sounds more than a little fishy, but then these stories always do, and Strange agrees to track down the ring.

Strange discovers that the addict to whom the woman had entrusted the ring has been murdered and the ring has gone missing. In pursuit of the missing ring, Strange reconnects with his old partner, Frank Vaughn, the detective in charge of investigating the addict's murder.

What follows is an entertaining tale as Vaughn pursues a multiple murderer while Strange attempt to recover the ring which turns out to be as elusive as the infamous black bird from The Maltese Falcon. The story includes a lot of colorful characters and contains all the trademark Pelecanos references to cars, "decks" of cigarettes, and about eight thousand different songs. There's a fair amount of sex and violence, and it's fun to watch the young Derek Strange in action again. This book will appeal to large numbers of crime fiction readers and fans of Pelecanos will not want to miss it.

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