Saturday, January 5, 2013

"Hell To Pay" by George P. Pelecanos

Derek Strange is an ex-cop turned private investigator. Despite a serious relationship with his secretary Janine, he still gets handjobs from a massage parlour. He is eventually called on by a friend to get some information on the high-rolling fiance of the friend's daughter.

His friend Terry Quinn, also an ex-cop and now a PI, gets involved with Sue Tracy, who has a business that pulls young prostitutes off the street and returns them to their families. She wants to save Jennifer Marshall, who has become ensnared in the world of "Worldwide" Wilson, a vicious pimp.

Meanwhile, three young gangsters set out to settle a drug debt, and the drive-by shooting results in the death of an eight-year-old boy who played on the baseball team that Derek coaches. He is contacted by the boy's gangster father to find those responsible. Derek wonders whether he should turn the culprits into the police, or exact his own kind of justice.

This book has all manner of praise plastered across its pages. It's apparently crime noir fiction of the highest order. I failed to see why. Pelecanos does address issues related to gang crime in African-American ghetto suburbs, how the education system and government fails to support them, and the overt class-based differences and prejudices between whites and blacks. But a sense of moral outrage over injustice does not make for a suspenseful or interesting novel.

Firstly, the two plot strands have nothing to do with each other. Quinn seeks justice against Wilson. Strange seeks justice against the three young drive-by shooting thugs. That's it. There are no plot twists, no suspenseful scenarios....nothing. Just a lot of description about what music everybody listens to, and where they're driving to. It does not make for an exciting, suspenseful "crime noir" novel. There is also endless description about the baseball games played by Strange's team. In fact, the drive-by shooting that so enrages Strange doesn't take place until the book is halfway through!

There is a nice sense of place and location. Dialogue is believable and realistic. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean squat to me if you're selling your material as a crime noir thriller and then fail to provide anything meaningful, exciting, suspenseful or interesting. What I had here was a grim, dull account of the hard life found in under-privileged society, and yet it still failed to enlighten me.

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