By: George P. Pelecanos
(Hardcover / 336 Pages / Little Brown & Company; 1st Edition / ISBN: 0316608432 / $24.95)
Description:PI Derek Strange continues to prowl the South East quadrant of Washington, D.C., in Pelecanos's 11th novel (after 'Hell to Pay'), which caroms madly and brilliantly between warring drug crews, opportunistic gun dealers and intimidated witnesses. Strange is hired by lawyers defending Granville Oliver, a murderous high-profile drug dealer now headed for death row. Strange has to locate a reliable witness who could earn Granville a commutation to life in prison.
Verdict: The popularity of George Pelecanos is on the rise, and with good reason. 'Soul Circus' is the third installment of his Derek Strange series, and it more than meets the high expectations set by the previous two. Pelecanos is to Washington, DC as Robert Crais and Michael Connelly are to Los Angeles. He knows the streets, the people, and the culture and his writing reflects the knowledge of an insider. His depictions of urban youth, gang violence, and drug culture are on the mark and he pulls no punches.
Character development seems to be a strong suit of Pelecanos, as Derek Strange is one of the best around. There is not a reader around who will dislike him. He is not perfect - in fact, he is quite flawed. He's married, but he's reluctant to fully immerse himself in family life. He opposes the death penalty and hates the drugs that plague his neighborhood, but at times resorts to violence and illegal activities himself. He is constantly trying to help the younger men with whom he comes in contact, but realizes that he can only go so far.
Terry Quinn is his partner, and he is just as flawed as Strange. He does not believe in stronger gun control laws, and hates when he is 'punked' due to the fact that he is white. He is prone to violence and has a temper. He often steps over the line, but he is just as loveable as Strange and brings a great deal to the story.
'Soul Circus' is a novel filled with violence and the death of the young. It is at times brutal, and Pelecanos does not flinch when he relates the reality of murder to his readers. He does not, however, portrey all those involved in the drug trade as evil thugs. No character in this book is drawn so black and white as to be wholly good or bad. From Mario Durham, who is constantly laughed at for wearing a pair of used 'ordans,' to the feared Granville Oliver on trial for his life, everyone has their flaws, and all have redeeming features.
This book can be read as a stand-alone, but readers would probably maximize their enjoyment of this novel by reading 'Right as Rain' and 'Hell to Pay' beforehand. They are both excellent as well.
Reviewed By Jonathan Klein