Pelecanos' reputation has been made writing tough action thrillers, with authentic dialogue, all notable for their equally authentic detail. Along the way he has created some memorable characters, and in "Hard Revolution" he chooses to take one of these, Derek Strange, and explore his motivations and the events that shaped him.
This story is told through those who would be most affected by, but least able to influence the momentous events of 1968. The major themes here are, unsurprisingly, racism and drugs, and their effects on the Strange family and a range of others from different backgrounds. What sets Pelecanos apart is a rare ability to write convincingly about different ethnic communities while avoiding stereotyping either the characters or their behaviour, and without slipping into sentimentality. As always, you will come to care deeply about the characters and, as always, period detail is superb, from the cars and clothes to the movies and TV programmes, but as usual with GP it is the music which is memorable - you can almost hear the Soul soundtrack of the book.
There must have been many novels written about America in the 60's, but few can have captured so accurately the feel of the times. This is not strictly an action thriller, although there is enough here to keep fans of the genre happy. Rather, it is a superb commentary on life in America in the late 60's, with much to say on the nature of Family and loyalty, justice and prejudice. Pelecanos has never been better and I cannot recommend this book highly enough
on 8 July 2004
George Pelecanos gets better and better, extraordinary for someone who writes two books every year. "Hard Revolution" brings together all of his signature themes - race, politics, Washington, history, music, masculinity - woven around a core of the assassination of Dr King in Memphis in 1968. Those who read his books will be familiar with the characters and will quickly fall into the world of police stations, Greek diners, soul music, poverty, marginalisation, bravery, racism, cruelty, humanity and wisdom. He is a social commentator of the best kind and I always feel enriched by his books. I never ever wait for the paperback version.
on 18 November 2012
This is a tremendous book. Divided into two sections: Spring 1959 and Spring 1968, it describes a group of characters in their adolescence and then adulthood, culminating in their crimes and retribution amongst the political events involving Martin Luther King's campaigns and assassination.
The way the seeds of the 1968 harvest are sown in the spring of 1959 is masterly. If you feel a little impatient for the hard action to begin, as I did, stay with it. The speed steadily picks up, and the background of the characters is vital to the final outcome, and is in any case beautifully plotted and described.
This novel goes far beyond conventional crime writing, as does much of the finest work in this field that comes out of the United States.I wish I could find British authors who were half as good at transcending the genre and who didn't just stick to serial killer, morose police detective, or "who did it" mode....
"Hard Revolution" is a detailed illumination through events and character of the racial elements of those fierce times in Washington DC, but never loses the drive through to discover what happens at the end of the story.
I have read and enjoyed several other books by George Pelecanos; this, which deals with the youth and motivation of Derek Strange, the protagonist of earlier novels, is, for me, the best, and if you want to follow the series about Strange, would be the one to start with.
on 21 March 2005
Amazon has been recommending me Pelecanos novels for some time so I thought I was long overdue to actually try one. And I now wonder why I waited so long.
"Hard Revolution", like the rest of Pelecanos' novels, is firmly rooted in the underside of Washington DC; more specifically in the Greek and African-American communities. The time is Spring 1968; the city a powder-keg about to explode into riot after the assassination of Martin Luther King.
Against this background Pelecanos weaves the stories of the Strange family, rookie policeman Derek and his Vietnam-vet brother Dennis, their father Darius, and their mother Alethea; and of veteran homicide cop Frank Vaughn. Strange and Vaughn are both trying to keep the peace in their own ways; to Vaughn, it's just a job, and an opportunity to make a few bucks on the side through - well, not exactly corruption, but irregular practices; to Strange, as a young black policeman in a city on the edge of chaos, it's a matter of identity, pride, and honour.
A splendidly detailed and richly characterised novel, with an excellent sense of time and place - a pacy noir-ish thriller which acts as an excellent introduction to the author's work.
This is the second George Pelecanos that I have read (following the Turnaround which I enjoyed). In many respects this isn't a crime novel but rather an exploration of life on the streets in late sixties Washington. As a commentary, and indictment, of racial prejudice it is a powerful novel and Pelecanos' effficient prose style works well. But I wouldn't necessarily call it a great novel which it would have to be to merit five stars. The Derek Strange character is certainly interesting and I'm now reading 'Right as Rain' the first in a trilogy of (more conventional) crime stories featuring strange as a middle-aged PI.
on 7 May 2004
Hard Revolution may be set in the sixties but don't let that put you off. The problems of race dealt with here are as common today as they were back then and Pelicanos' style of writing keeps the story moving along at a great pace. Derek Strange, a young black man, is a moving and heroic character whose decisions in life take us on a gripping journey which is totally believable - so much so that you can imagine yourself there by his side as he struggles to do the right thing. This is a book that you will in all probability finish in one or two sittings - but you will be thinking about it for a long time after. A great read and a great buy. Cannot recommend it enough. If you are looking for an author to follow then Pelicanos is one of the best.
I came to this, the first George Pelecanos novel I had read, on the back of the author’s contribution to the “The Wire”, a major triumph in itself. The substance of the book has already been fully exposed. Here is the same authentic sense of the racially divided, drug-centred world of Washington D C. In this gripping story the political background is central to the action throughout. The characterisation is subtle and authentic and the plot moves convincingly to its powerful climax. This is crime writing of the highest order. It is good to discover such a fine novelist with so many more novels to explore.
on 16 June 2004
HARD REVOLUTION is another stunning book by Pelecanos, taking us back to the turbulent year of 1968, after first making a brief stop in 1959. Pelecanos is an acquired taste because when he tells his story he holds nothing back no matter how distasteful the acts may be. Modern hardboiled at it's nastiest.
Before HARD REVOLUTION came the Derek Strange trilogy of RIGHT AS RAIN, HELL TO PAY and SOUL CIRCUS. Set in present day Washington D.C., they featured the black private detective struggling to earn a buck while making every effort to ensure the children from his neighbourhood had a chance to make something of themselves rather than being drawn into the gang lifestyle. Now we are taken back in time, first to 1959 and then to 1968 to meet the young Derek Strange.
Unrest simmers close to the surface as everyone senses that there is a social change in the air. This part of the story is paced by constant updates about the approaching rally in Memphis that Martin Luther King jr is due to speak at. So apart from the fictional tension built up by the actions of Pelecanos' characters, there is also the added tension that comes from knowing the true events that about to take place.
The book is a little unusual when classifying it as a crime novel because there is no clear single plot rather it travels along many paths and gives an insightful commentary about social unrest in a tumultuous period of modern history. Murders take place, murders are solved, but they are more or less incidental to the story which is more a focus on the characters and the period of time in which they lived. It's a powerful book that deals with sensitive issues in a hard-nosed way.
on 24 June 2014
I like Pelecanos, but this must be his very best book. It is not a mystery - one knows what is going to happen. Good description (I imagine) of the miserable lives of Negroes in Washington in the 60's.
This fourth book in the Derek Strange cycle (Right as Rain, Hell to Pay, and Soul Circus precede it), finally takes longtime readers of Pelecanos to an event we've been waiting for him to deal with: Washington, D.C.'s 1968 riots. I wasn't even born until a few years after the riots, but growing up in D.C., it was hard to miss the physical and psychic scars they left on the city. Once again Pelecanos brilliantly uses the pulp crime novel as a vehicle for his sociocultural history of Washington, D.C. This is one of his best works yet, acting as a prequel to the Strange series while seamlessly taking on issues of race, what it means to be a man, duty, and the nobility of work.
The story opens with Derek Strange passing from childhood to adolescence in 1959, running around his Northeast neighborhood where white and black kids uneasily co-exist. His best friend is a Greek boy whose father owns the diner where Derek's father sweats over the grill. These seventy pages introduce almost all the dramatis personae of the main part of the book, including Derek's family (mother, father, older brother), the no-good Martini brothers, Detective Frank Vaughn and his family, and two racist gearheads named Buzz and Stu. A final character is the city itself, which is undergoing transformation as postwar integration brings demographic changes with it. There's a little heavy handedness, when Derek gets caught shoplifting and a store owner's lecture sets him on the right path, but for the most part this part is a carefully crafted kaleidoscopic tour of the people and places that will come into play nine years later.
Part Two takes place in the spring of 1968, during the weeks preceding the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and into the riots that broke out in response. The intervening decade or so has seen Derek grow up to become a police officer (as has his best friend, Lydel Blue), doing his best to protect and serve while being called an Uncle Tom by a lot of his people. Meanwhile his slacker older brother Dennis has drifted in a haze of revolutionary rhetoric and heavy pot smoking. Dennis wants to better himself, but is hobbled by seeing oppression everywhere and a lack of inner strength, and gets caught up in the small-time plots of his unsavory drug friends. The Martini brothers went to Vietnam and only one came back, while Buzz and Stu are spinning their wheels in the same old places, albeit in new rides.
As the city simmers in the summer heat and racial tensions mount, the petty half-baked schemes of Buzz and Stu and Dennis' so-called friends start to take shape. The two Strange brothers find their lives intersecting with two armed robberies just as the city explodes in a cathartic orgy of burning and looting. Meanwhile, Det. Vaughn is combing the streets for whomever killed a young black student in a hit and run. These storylines all coalesce into a bloodbath that is punctuated by the riots. The riots are ably described, although Pelecanos' prose loses its verve and lapses into clipped reportage reads like a dry newspaper account. Still, if you've never read about the riots, this will give you a sense of the chaos and senselessness of it all. (For a more complete picture, track down a copy of Ten Blocks From the White House.)
Other subplots involve Derek's attempt to make up his mind about Carmen, his childhood sweetheart and former girlfriend, and his uneasy relationship with his liberal white partner. Of course there's all the usual Pelecanos pop-culture stuff, cars, bars, movies (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly plays a prominent role), and especially music (there are loads of discussions of soul, R&B, Motown, Stax, Volt, as well as many props given to DC-rocker Link Wray and his Raymen). At the end of the day, this is a brilliant book, not only because of its value as a cultural portrait of the real Washington, D.C., but for its discussion of race. Derek and his partner like and respect one another, but it takes them a while to realize that even with all the best intentions, one can never know what it is to walk in another man's shoes. There's also a very strong message embedded about the dignity and value of work--in this book, doing your job well is sometimes its own reward. This is a mature novel, one that deserves to break out of the crime shelves and into general readership--great stuff.