Review

The Way Home

by George Pelecanos

George Pelecanos is considered by many to be the premier writer
of modern American crime fiction. Throughout his career, he has
been compared to successful contemporaries such as Dennis Lehane
and Michael Connelly --- both of whom have gone on to huge
bestselling status. Meanwhile, Pelecanos has stayed fairly under
the radar --- but those in the know who have followed him through
his engaging novels have been treated to some of the grittiest and
hardest hitting fiction being written today.

With THE WAY HOME, Pelecanos continues his trend of moving away
from heavy crime dramas and focusing more intimately on
interpersonal relationships between families as well as the social
impact that a neighborhood and local friends can play on an
individual’s development and creation of their moral
judgment. Pelecanos is a master of centering his work on moral
dilemmas, where the choices that are made by his characters defines
the path their lives will ultimately take.

THE WAY HOME begins in Washington, D.C. in 1999, and the focal
point is the Flynn family. Thomas Flynn and his wife Amanda are
Irish-Americans who have made their way into upper middle class
life and raised their only child, Chris, in a fairly safe
environment. As Chris hits his teens, he begins to sway from the
straight and narrow, loses interest in academics and sports, and
gets mixed up with the wrong crowd. A few minor incidents lead to a
major arrest for assault and reckless endangerment that finds him
remanded to a juvenile detention facility called Pine Ridge.

Chris is part of Unit 5 at Pine Ridge, a predominately non-white
population of reckless youths where danger lurks at every turn. He
is nicknamed “white boy” and befriends a few fellow
Unit 5 residents while trying to keep his nose clean. 
Meanwhile, his father, Thomas, is on the outside running his own
carpet business, Flynn’s Floors, and feels the heavy burden
of guilt over Chris’s failures. Inside Pine Ridge, Chris
exists inside a world of violence, retaliation and protection of
your own --- a code of conduct that involves him and his friends in
a fatal brawl on Pine Ridge’s basketball court.

The novel jumps 10 years to current day. Chris and a few of his
former Pine Ridge comrades have found work with the family business
and are desperately trying to lead normal lives. However, it would
not be a Pelecanos novel without the existence of temptation. Chris
and his co-worker Ben find that in the form of a bag containing
$50,000 hidden under the floorboards of a house they are helping to
remodel. They resist the temptation --- but Ben gets drunk one
night and shares this find with another former Pine Ridge friend,
Lawrence Newhouse. Lawrence takes the cash for himself, not
realizing that a pair of particularly nasty ex-convicts have just
been released from long prison terms and have returned to the
neighborhood in search of the money they had stashed away years
earlier.

The last part of THE WAY HOME deals with the spree of violence
that the two ex-cons --- Sonny Wade and Wayne Minors --- inflict
upon those they suspect of possibly being responsible for the
disappearance of their $50,000. Ben is an unfortunate casualty in
this spree, and Chris discovers that he had revealed to Lawrence
the location of the money. Chris is now at a crossroads: involve
his father and local law enforcement, or stick to the code with
which he was instilled at Pine Ridge and assist Lawrence in
confronting the two violent criminals.

THE WAY HOME does end with a bang --- but not nearly as violent
an outcome as some of Pelecanos’s earlier works. It seems
that he has developed into much more than a crime novelist as his
recent works have moved more towards interpersonal relationships
and the impact of socio-economic factors upon lower- to
middle-class residents of modern D.C. THE WAY HOME is a perfect
novel for the upcoming Father’s Day observance, as the
relationship between Thomas and Chris Flynn is a complicated yet
strong father-son bond expertly explored by a writer at the top of
his game.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 24, 2011

The Way Home
by George Pelecanos

  • Publication Date: January 13, 2011
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316087335
  • ISBN-13: 9780316087339