Okay, so I remembered what it was that made me skeptical about Pelecanos.
But before I nag, some love: the best thing about the book is G.P.'s version of a '70s blaxploitation flick, the one everybody in the book is all abuzz about, that gives the novel its catchy title--and reveals the fury and compassion bubbling underneath the book. Instead of a pimp or "bad man" idealized and idolized, the titular Suckerman's a vicious thug, the film a bleak realistic downer, corrosively laying out the social forces shaping crime comes and yet resolutely resisting the urge to celebrate it. The audience leaves the film disgruntled, disappointed, disillusioned--not getting the zipperless joy they'd sought, instead forced to think and feel. That's a pretty good take on Pelecanos, too.
I loved the fact that his characters think about where they're at, that they attend to the world they live in, the world they wish to live in, and the tough choices between the easy high (the easy score, the easy lay) and the dead-ends attendant therewith (the score that bites back, the queasy lay, the swamp of moral consequences, not to mention the literal dead end).
I kind of squirm at how often I feel like I'm being told rather than shown such choices, or actively groan at the incessant blather of deep trivia, music- and car- and D.C.-related. That last ... well, okay: I like a deep thick sense of place, and feeling a little lost means you can't just be a tourist. But too often the density of fandom struck me as a lot of telling, that guy who can list (and will, and does, ad nauseam) his favorite albums and every session player's favorite drink, but doesn't give you much sense of *why* he loves this music. (And here I will draw a polite line between Pelecanos' deployment of such data and Lethem's; the latter makes me understand why comics, "The Searchers," James Brown, and seventy-five bands I don't know really matter. I got hung up in Pelecanos, where the already-fans might feel all fired up but the appreciation is just there, a tacit premise rather than something evoked or shown.)
But this is nagging. I'll come back to the guy's books--in fact, am dying to read the next novel with this one's two leads, Marcus Clay and Dmitri Karras. 'Cause nagging aside, I got invested in these people, and want to see where they go. And I also get a sense of what Pelecanos is doing with his sense of place and class and race--and I think it might take a good four or five novels to really get a handle on his accomplishment.
So, liked the book, but not yet in love with the author. (In print. As part of "The Wire" team, he's already getting mash notes from me.)