Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Way Home, by George Pelecanos (hardcover, $24.99)

It doesn't matter if you know that George Pelecanos will be writing about a good guy who is or was a little bad. His protagonists usually are men who were boys in one of the tough neighborhoods in Baltimore/D.C., got into trouble as boys or men, and now seek redemption or forgiveness. It doesn't matter if you know what the book is going to be about, because Pelecanos does it like no other and the story touches your heart each time.

A lot of Pelecanos's stories are about the Greek and African-American communities, and the reader can feel Pelecanos's connection to them. But this time he focuses on middle class, white Christopher Flynn. As a troubled and aimless teenager, Chris beat up another kid, and when the police came for him, he also got caught holding drugs. He was sent away to juvenile detention, where all of his fellow inmates were non-whites. Chris's nickname was "White Boy." Despite this, Chris survived and even befriended some of the other inmates.

After an introduction in which all this is explained -- in a riveting and thought-provoking way, of course -- and we meet the main characters, the story jumps about five years. A grown-up Chris and one of his prison friends are working for Chris's dad in his carpet-laying business. They discover something buried beneath the floorboards of a house they are working on. It is at this point that everything they have gone through and the future they see for themselves converge to provide a turning point in their lives.

Pelecanos is capable of imbuing his stories with poignancy and realism as few other authors are. You know the real-life counterparts for his characters are alive and breathing somewhere in this world. They may not be as lucky as Pelecanos's characters in finding a resolution, but their backgrounds, their life's choices are depicted with care by the author.

Pelecanos's work has become more commercial -- in a good way -- over the years, but that is not to say he has compromised his literary vision in any way; it's just easier for us folks who don't come from any Baltimore/D.C. 'hood to understand the story. Too, watching Pelecanos's work on HBO's The Wire may have taught us all a little more of the lingo. Aw-ight.

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