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What It Was Paperback – 9 Feb 2012

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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: 15.6 x 2 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 522,695 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)

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)

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)

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)

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

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

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

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)

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)

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)

Book Description

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

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By colin on 4 April 2012
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman TOP 500 REVIEWER on 3 Feb. 2014
Format: Paperback
"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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By Strv 74 on 16 Dec. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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. I have read almost all of them and so far he has showed himself incapable of writing a bad or even average book. They are all at least four stars and this latest product is a solid five.

This story takes place in 1972 and as always in Washington DC. Pelecanos writes in such a way that you are more or less transported back through time and get the feeling that you are sitting as a spectator watching the whole story being played out in front of you. His ability to describe cars, fashion and above all music at the time makes you want to go look for your old LP:s and play the tunes that the people in the story are listening to. Being both familiar with Washington DC and the music of the era this is a great feeling.

Pelecanos also writes in the way people talked and reacted in those days. No attempts to take todays values and bring them back in time just to make the heroes and villains seam more understandable to you. These are real people.

The Crime story is well plotted and thought out. The Ending as small surprise but also a very acceptable one. This is a book I had a very difficult time putting down.

There is no question that when he publishes his next one I will get it on the day of release.
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By Barmee on 10 Sept. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bl**dy loved this book.

The story is both brooding with the threat of violence and yet also action packed in equal measure.
The characters are well developed and you really believe them.
The regular references to music, clothing and cars of the time really give you the sense that you are there in that period.

This is a great stand alone 'hard boiled' crime novel ... but if you have read any of GP's other novels there is the added treat of mini refrences to other characters that have appeared in leading roles in those other tales (don't worry if this is your first Pelecanos book, these references probably will not even be noticed by you and won't spoil your enjoyment).

The book has a satisfying ending and yet it is not conveniently 'neat'. As you read the story you feel certain that there can only one outcome for the bad guy. Actually no .... the book leaves you with no story-line that is not suitably dealt with yet the ending is not what you are expecting.

I enjoyed everything about this book - so much so that I then bought his latest novel immediatly.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By nigel p bird on 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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