Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Firing OffenseA Firing Offense by George Pelecanos
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"A Firing Offense" is the first novel by George P. Pelecanos, one that started the Nick Stefanos trilogy. The author has not yet developed the "D.C. noir" style so characteristic for his later novels, and his pen is not yet as assured as in "Right as Rain" or "The Night Gardener".

It is the early 1990s in Washington D.C. Nick Stefanos is an advertising director in a consumer electronics and appliances store chain. A young man who worked in the company's warehouse has disappeared and his grandfather asks Nick to play a private detective and find his grandson. The plot moves at a leisurely pace until about three-fourth into the novel, when it takes a rather dramatic turn, which leads to some frenzied action.

The main weakness of the novel is the implausibility of its premise (Nick taking the PI job). Moreover, based on what we have learned about the characters, the climactic scenes towards the end of the novel are preposterous. Mr. Pelecanos, a master of dialogue writing in his later books, is not on a sure ground here; for instance, the conversations with the skinheads and their ideologist sound artificial. The detection method based on the "word on the street" reeks of "Starsky and Hutch".

On the positive side, there is one wonderful fragment of prose where Nick feels total exhilaration after beating someone to pulp. The novel well conveys the sense of location for Washington D.C. and the Carolinas. The references to the music and films of the Eighties are aplenty, and I particularly enjoyed the mention of Sonic Youth as well as The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The title of the novel is a clever play on words.

All in all, a very fast and pleasant read, but it does not have the usual Pelecanos class.

Two stars.

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