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What It Was [Paperback]

George Pelecanos
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
RRP: 9.99
Price: 9.31 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

9 Feb 2012
Washington, D.C., 1972. Derek Strange has left the police department and set up shop as a private investigator. His former partner, Frank "Hound Dog" Vaughn, is still on the force. When a young woman comes to Strange asking for his help recovering a cheap ring she claims has sentimental value, the case leads him onto Vaughn's turf, where a local drug addict's been murdered, shot point-blank in his apartment. Soon both men are on the trail of a ruthless killer: Red Fury, so called for his looks and the car his girlfriend drives, but a name that fits his personality all too well. Red Fury doesn't have a retirement plan, as Vaughn points out - he doesn't care who he has to cross, or kill, to get what he wants. As the violence escalates and the stakes get higher, Strange and Vaughn know the only way to catch their man is to do it their own way. Rich with details of place and time - the cars, the music, the clothes - and fueled by non-stop action, this is Pelecanos writing in the hard-boiled noir style that won him his earliest fans and placed him firmly in the ranks of the top crime writers in America.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Orion (9 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1409143678
  • ISBN-13: 978-1409143673
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 28,250 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


What It Was is a vividly imagined period piece, a latter-day Bonnie and Clyde account of two lovers on a murderous rampage ... As aficionados of The Wire will attest, Pelecanos is a peerless chronicler of the black urban underclass and his book is rich in detail about fashion and music and American muscle cars. .... The authors skilful evocation of a crucial moment in American history as seen from the street, rather than a more historical account, is entertainingly rewarding. (SUNDAY EXPRESS 2012-02-19)

A sizzling flashback to the Watergate summer of 1972 ... What It Was features plenty of tough talk, hot cars, hotter women and keenly crafted social and racial observation, all set to a pumping funk and soul soundtrack. (David Roy IRISH NEWS 2012-02-10)

This week we're grabbing a copy of George Pelecanos's thriller What It Was ... if only for it's cool-as-flip cover. Given Pelecanos worked on The Wire and has written some of the greatest American crime novels of the last two decades, we're confident this 1970s slice of noir will live up to it. (THE HERALD 2012-02-18)

A lean but lethal thriller ... the world of muscle cars, teetering afros and scratchy soul records proves so intoxicating you'll devour it in one sitting. (SHORTLIST 2012-02-23)

The Wire writer George Pelecanos has a way with words that only seems to be getting meaner and swankier (Henry Sutton THE MIRROR 2012-02-24)

a well-written potboiler about vicious criminals and virtuous investigators in seventies Washington DC ... it's a mind-blowing trip (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH 2012-03-05)

If you like your book fast and gritty, What It Was will be a real thrill ride/read. (RTE GUIDE 2012-03-24)

Author of over 18 critically-lauded novels ... his reputation rests on a bedrock of tight, fast-paced prose, meticulous plotting, finely tuned characters and an incredible authenticity in depicting time and place. ... What It Was does not disappoint.This is a writer in full control of his material and fully understanding of his strengths. Lovers of crime fiction should not miss what he has to say. (IRISH EXAMINER 2012-03-17)

i pretty much loved every sentance of this novel, both for the pacy, hard-boiled plot and for Pelecanos's non-stop grab bag of pop-cultural references. As Befits one of the leading wrietrs on The Wire, his descriptive prose is endlessly quotable. (IRISH TIMES 2012-03-24)

A complex tale of drug-dealing and detection in Washington DC ... it manages to combine a fond trip down memory lane - dig those groovy clothes and classic hits - with an equally fond tribute to pulp noir. it moves so fast there is no time for schmaltz. (Mark Sanderson EVENING STANDARD 2012-07-05)

Book Description

The stunning new crime thriller from one of the writers of THE WIRE. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By colin
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
One of the other reviewers does not like this book as it mentions clothes, cars and music. But as with a lot of Pelecano's books who is wearing what, driving what and listening to what is integral to the story, the plot, the characters, etc..... Its these details that make the book and set the scene indeed these details paint the scene in glorious 70's technicolor! The clothes, cars and music are characters as much as the people in the story.
Yes its short buts its snappy, atmospheric and vintage Pelecanos.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good to be back. 27 July 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Given that George Pelecanos has been one of my long-time favourite authors, it came as quite a surprise to me to realise that I haven't read anything by him for a couple of years. I have no doubt that this has something to do with my patterns of reading since I bought my kindle. I suspect I've become used to being attracted to cheaper options. `What It Was' came as a great reminder that some things are just worth paying a little extra for.

Even the author's note was interesting, a brief explanation of the way the book came about. It reveals something of his researching and how the bigger stories aren't always the ones to catch the attention.

Last time I did have a Pelecanos in my hand, I was with Nick Stefanos. He's in the opening here, too, so I was immediately on familiar territory, though Stefanos only makes a cameo appearance in this book - it's his drinking partner, Strange, who is telling the story.

It's set in 1972 and paints a picture of a familiar yet faraway place.

Red `Fury' Jones is based loosely upon the criminal Raymond `Cadillac' Smith. Jones has had a hard life and, as a consequence, is a hard man, his philosophy: `Take what you want. Take no man's @*!]. No police can intimidate you, no sentence will enslave you, no cell can contain your mind.' He's out to make a name for himself and to make sure that people remember him when he's gone. He's already half-way there - `Legend was, an ambitious young dude had tried to shank him in jail and the blade had broken in Red's chest. It wasn't a legend.'

To nurture the legend he's creating, Red knocks off a herion taster. That's when he gets the information he needs to move up the food-chain and also when homicide detective `Hangdog' Vaughn (`Dude got no quit') gets involved.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Magic Ring 3 Feb 2014
By Robin Friedman TOP 500 REVIEWER
"What it Was" (2012) by George Pelecanos is a detective story with a noir flavor set in Washington, D.C. in 1972. The story it tells is recounted in a bar many years later by one of the primary characters, Derek Strange, an investigator who appears in other Pelecanos books. Derek Strange and his friend and former police department colleague, Detective Frank Vaughn, known on the street as "hound dog" are on the trail of a series of murders and robberies featuring a flamboyant criminal, Red "Fury" Jones, and his woman, "Coco" who runs a brothel. With the exception of Vaughn, most of the characters in the story are African American. Racial tension in Washington, D.C. forms an important subplot.

The story revolves around the fate of a ring, which appears to be a cheap piece of costume jewelry. It disappears during Red Jones' first murder in the book. A young woman hires Strange to find it, claiming it is a valuable family heirloom. The ring and the murders bring Strange and Vaughn to work together as the ring goes through many hands and events before its fate and ownership are determined.

The novel is short but it is cluttered with characters and incidents, probably too many. The story is full of violence and twists but it remains somewhat slow and predictable. The appeal of this book lies in the writing and the background. Pelacanos writes in a no-nonsense hard-boiled, street-smart style attuned to the patterns of speech in 1970's D.C. The writing is direct and effective. Characters and voicing tend to change many times within each chapter. The effect of the frequent back and forth in voice tends to be overdone and to slow down the pace of the story.

The book captures the feel of the underside of Washington, D.C.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The era is more interesting than the story 20 Nov 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Pelecanos time-travels us back to Washington in the June of 1972 for this violent, stylish novel that actually doesn't have too much going on in the way of plot. His eye for detail allows snappy, fashion-aware pen pictures to be drawn of the various dull characters that populate the proceedings, but frankly you don't end up caring much about the cops or the crooks.

Pelecanos's Washington of 1972 is a macho, violent place, with criminals breezing around in big, powerful cars that are described in loving detail. The soundtrack of the times is resuscitated with equal precision and affection, but as another Amazon reviewer has rightly said, this book is style over substance.

Gun-battles, theft, drug-taking and dealing all feature, so this is pretty much standard fayre for the books Pelecanos produces, and although it's breezily, sharply written and easy enough to read, there is not much depth to really get your teeth into.

The sights and sounds of 1972 are faithfully recalled, and there is the inevitable nod to the rumblings of the Watergate scandal that went on to bring down a President, but it's not exceptional stuff by any means. Think old seventies episodes of your fabourite American cop shows with a dash of 1973's Bond caper Live and Let Die and you have the essence of the mood captured here.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I am a fan
I always enjoy Geoge Pelecanos novels ever since I viewed The Wire boxed set.. He conjures up Washinton so you can almost smell it. What more can an author achieve. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Peardrop
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard-hitting cop thriller
George Pelecanos is a past-master of crime fiction. One of the all-time greats. 'What It Was' opens at a gallop and keeps you turning the pages but unfortunately the ending fizzles... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Scouse Chap
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great
Captures the atmosphere of the era it was set in very well, but lacks any real drive when it comes to story.
More style than substance.
Published 10 months ago by Dave G
5.0 out of 5 stars I love Pelecanos
Pelecanos could write the assembly instructions for an Ikea product and I would be glued to it.
The man is genius. The characters and setting are totally absorbing. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Stephen Kinchington
4.0 out of 5 stars Classy
Not the best of GP's stuff but that still means this is an excellent slice of Washington life. Probably one of the best writers working today.
Published 13 months ago by M. E. Chatterton
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointing
Very poor and not up to his usual standard.A fairly dull book with an ordinary story line,nothing new in crime writing.
Published 15 months ago by mr d m carrington
5.0 out of 5 stars what it was
having read all of his books i was not disapointed by this one. i look forward to his next offering.
Published 15 months ago by barry w ray
5.0 out of 5 stars Master at work
George Pelecanos is one of those authors that you do not have to hesitate to buy his next book from even before any reviews are written. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Strv 74
5.0 out of 5 stars A cracking read
I bl**dy loved this book.

The story is both brooding with the threat of violence and yet also action packed in equal measure. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Barmee
4.0 out of 5 stars Another from the master
In What it Was the prolific George Pelecanos lovingly recreates Washington DC in the early seventies - the music, the attitude, the politics as well as the crime - and reveals... Read more
Published 23 months ago by J. H. Bretts
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