Little, Brown & Co., 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
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Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
enjoyed my first encounter with PI Derek Strange of Washington, D.C. in
, and especially appreciated the social conscience underlying that
thriller. That same perspective is strong in
, which takes us back to Strange's teen years and shows what it took for a black kid to walk the razor edge between right and wrong in those times, even one from a good family like the Stranges.
he relationship between people of varying skin shades is shown down the years by example. Thirteen-year-old Derek hangs out with Greek Billy (Derek's father Darius works as a cook at Mike Georgelakos's grill). Derek's mother Alethea cleans house for Frank Vaughn, a corrupt cop who's mostly (very much in his own fashion) on the side of right. Vaughn's wife Olga insists that Alethea join them at lunch-times, but Mrs. Strange wonders '
If Olga was so pure, then why was she separating Alethea's dishes from the white dishes in the sink?
' Pelecanos shows young Derek make a '
', but he's lucky to be caught by a good man who gives him a second chance and heeds the warning to think about his choices.
nfortunately, Derek's older brother Dennis takes another path. Consumed by anger at injustices, he falls in with '
neighborhood crawlers ... who perpetrated violent shit against their own people and treated their women like dogs.
' When he eventually redeems himself, he suffers harsh, if predictable, consequences. That event in turn results in Derek taking an action that changes
life's direction. Before this happens, Derek joins the police, at a time when '
the promise of the civil rights movement seemed broken
' and the police were perceived as ghetto prison guards - black police officers were not at all popular either with their colleagues or those they were sworn to protect.
elecanos shows us the struggles of the Strange family to make a living, and sometimes to survive, in a society undergoing big changes. The huge canvas on which he paints multi-hued players into his novel, incorporates the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and the Washington riots that followed. In this time of revolution, Derek Strange makes a tough choice and lives with the consequences.
is brilliant and disturbing, yet it offers glimmers of hope about societal evolution.
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