The Cut

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

A sense of place is a strange creature when you're reading fiction set in a particular location, and with almost all of George Pelecanos' sixteen novels set in the gritty streets of downtown Washington D.C. the reader may or may not feel the need for a map to accompany the narrative as the characters make their way through the setting.

I've griped before about the matter of maps in fiction, most recently re. Ian Rankin's Glasgow, noting books with Reading Group Notes at the back accompanied by a map, although it's impossible to locate most of the locations in the story on the map.  If you go to the trouble of whacking a map inside the covers you might as well select one that allows the reader to figure out (roughly) where we are.

Most of us, for example, aren't overly familiar with the geography of downtown Washington, so you might think some form of cartographic assistance would be appreciated, but Pelecanos has a style that slips over the ground well enough to make one unnecessary.

If you wanted to quibble, you might end up interpreting the detail thrown into the narrative here as padding (there's certainly enough of it there to raise that suspicion) but it's almost a case of an author who renders the question of an accompanying map immaterial by going to a level where you'd need a small scale street directory if the anorak brigade were going to be able to check these things out.

The main issue, as far as I can see, is keeping the reader going, turning the pages and heading towards the conclusion and Pelecanos manages to do that rather well. He's a class act, and I don't recall spending any more than a day or two on any of his previous efforts because I wanted to find out the ending.

Which is what it's all about in crime fiction isn't it?

I'd actually gone off Mr P's work a while back, largely due to the psycho'd out factor, but this time around there's less focus on the extreme end of the psycho- and sociopath spectrum, though you wouldn't be wanting to run across any of these dudes late at night in a dark alley.

Iraq War veteran Spero Lucas has picked up a nice little earner as an unlicensed private investigator, doing leg work for, among others, a prominent criminal lawyer. On the side he tracks down objects that have gone missing, operating on a 40% commission. The two strands of his career run together when his work on the ground results in a teenage kid getting off a car stealing rap, largely because Spero's photographic investigations of the scene of the arrest calls the accuracy of the eye witness testimony into question.

Those photographic investigations are, by the way, carried out using the private investigator's new best friend, the iPhone. As Spero mentions at one point he could have taken a camera, a notebook and a voice recorder but he's got the lot in a device that fits in the palm of his hand.


© Ian Hughes 2012