Pelecanos, George. Right as Rain.

NY: Little, Brown, 2001.

This is the first volume in what became known as the “D.C. Quartet,” widely considered this author’s best work to date. The two protagonists, who share certain experiences but have far more, and deeper, differences, are Derek Strange, a black ex-cop and private investigator in his fifties with a quarter-century of practical experience on the street, and Terry Quinn, a white guy in his late twenties recently departed from the Metro police under a cloud who is marking time in his life by working in a quiet used bookstore.

Quinn shot an off-duty (black) cop whom he thought was a civilian threatening another (white) civilian with a gun. He was cleared by the department but he hasn’t yet come to terms himself with what happened. The dead cop’s mother hires Derek to look into the case, to find out what “really” happened that resulted in her son being killed. Derek’s convinced there was no cover-up or anything, but he’ll see if he can discover any mitigating circumstances. And that takes him to Terry.

The two men hit it off, though they are also aware of their differences. There are other cases on Derek’s plate, of course, mostly routine stuff, and Terry finds himself becoming caught up in them, even as things begin to come together in the shooting and what was really behind it. And Derek finds Quinn is a good guy to have at your side in a brawl.

Meanwhile, Terry has become very interested in a young black-Puerto Rican waitress and the two of them (she, somewhat hesitantly) begin a romance. Derek, with his very different perspective, questions his new friend’s deeper motives: Is he trying to prove something to himself, or to others, by dating a woman of color? And Terry finds himself listening, and thinking, and considering. “I’m not like that,” he protests. “We’re all like that,” Derek insists.

At the same time, Derek has a longstanding relationship with his office manager, a very efficient, very patient woman, who has been in love with her boss for years. He’s just afraid to take the obvious next step.

Pelecanos does a generally good job of developing his characters, the walk-ons as much as the two leads. Derek has a thing for western novels and movies, and for classic soul music, while Terry is far better read than one might expect of a cop and has a distinctly intellectual side. On the other hand, the redneck drug dealers, Ray Boone and his daddy, though decidedly scary, sometimes border on the cartoonish. You almost expect them to wear tee-shirts with “BAD GUY” printed across the back.

That’s a relatively small complaint, though, and I’ll be lining up the next episode.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. FantasticFiction.com lists The Big Blowdown as #1 in the DC Quartet. Are they mistaken?


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