At one point Washington, D.C. was affixed with the nickname "Dodge
City" due to the violence, vice and death that plagued --- and
continues to plague --- the upstanding majority of that troubled
city. George Pelecanos is a native of Washington, D.C., and reading
one of his fine detective novels is akin to taking a guided tour of
the most dangerous places on its meanest streets. Pelecanos doesn't
take you around on a bus; it's a walking tour that doesn't miss a
DRAMA CITY is a bit of a departure for Pelecanos. It is a
stand-alone novel, outside of the Derek Strange/Terry Quinn mythos,
although both of these gentlemen make brief cameo appearances.
DRAMA CITY is a crime novel, yes, but it is more of a character
study, one that is an edge-of-the-seat read from first page to
last. Pelecanos introduces us to Lorenzo Brown and Rachel Lopez,
two D.C. residents whose lives and fortunes cross and intertwine
over the course of a few days.
Brown is a former gangbanger, a straight-up street soldier whose
job resulted in a prison sentence. He is back in the Humane Society
and earning the grudging respect of those who would look down on
him for holding a "public" job. Brown, in turn, is acquiring a
respect for himself and what he does, something that helps him
resist the lure of the easy but dangerous money of his old life.
Lopez is Brown's parole officer, someone who truly wants to see him
do well and who is actually involved in the lives of her cases.
Lopez, however, is leading a double life. During the day she is a
respected parole officer, but at night she gives herself up to
alcohol and the lure of random, anonymous sex, with her nights
gradually taking control of her days.
Brown and Lopez find themselves being pulled into the middle of a
territorial dispute between rival drug gangs, one of which Brown
was formerly a member. Brown's past is on a collision course with
his present, while Lopez is caught in the crossfire.
Pelecanos layers his narrative with realistic grit and grime, as
well as shine. The characters who populate DRAMA CITY are
frighteningly real, but Pelecanos does not create one-dimensional
characters. He pulls the curtain back and reveals the social
laboratory behind the creation of the societal monsters in our
midst. Pelecanos also shows the toll that is wreaked upon the
law-abiding, the straights, the people who go to work, come home,
and stay behind their shuttered windows and locked doors until
morning when they begin again. Ultimately, however, DRAMA CITY
draws a sharp and deadly contrast between the ease of doing evil
and the difficulty of doing good.
DRAMA CITY is a stark, dark read that eschews simplistic
characterizations. The story, and its characters, will get under
your skin and stay there. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011