Top positive review
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'A song about friends and money and a drug deal gone wrong'
on 10 November 2009
King Suckerman is the second in Pelecanos' DC Quartet, and now the plot centres on Dmitri Karras, who was only a young child at the end of The Big Blowdown. Although it's not necessary to have read the earlier novel, having done so will lend an air of poignancy and foreboding to the action, as events seem to push Dmitri down the same road taken by his father.
In other respects King Suckerman is different from its predecessor. It's shorter, funnier and faster, and doesn't lose impetus by painting in the back-story to the main protagonists. It's reminiscent of Elmore Leonard's best work, and Pelecanos shares Leonard's eye for detail; when he describes a young hoodlum's loping stride across a hot, dusty yard, the rayon shirt sticking to his back in the Maryland heat, one hand half-curled and the other holding the sawn-off shotgun, you can see and feel the moment. The dialogue owes a lot to Leonard too, fizzing and crackling off the page. The violence, when it comes, is shocking - far bloodier and more explicit than in Leonard's novels.
Occasionally the detail gets in the way, as Pelecanos appears to name-check every rock, soul and prog band from the mid-1970s. But just as I was beginning to get irritated with this, I found myself ticking off the LPs which I once had, and suddenly I was back in the period, in my stacked heels, patched flares and cheesecloth shirt.
Pelecanos really cares about his characters, even the worst of them, and he makes you care about them too. It's this compassion that really enfuses his fiction - that, and the sense of place, the detailed portrayal of a sprawling American city; the same qualities that elevated The Wire (for which Pelecanos wrote many of the scripts) above all other TV crime dramas.