Book Review

(Orion, 2001)

Say you liked the movie “Seven” and Raymond Chandler novels, and wanted to mix a cocktail of both in a novel that might just lead to film rights.

Team up 50-something worldly-wise black ex-cop with young, intense white ex-cop in a gritty urban sprawl chewed up from the inside by drugs, guns and racism. The setting is noir, the backdrop is gun-metal sky, add seventies-soul cum Magnificent Seven soundtrack and you’re right as rain.

Pelecanos seems to have made a living out of viscerating Washington D.C. – the crime capital of the United States – for its noir content, and his ninth novel is more junkie fare for his fans. Ex-policeman Derek Strange, who runs his own private eye agency (complete with clownish sidekick and devoted Girl Friday-cum-occasional girlfriend) is roped in to clear the name of a young black off-duty officer, shot by a fellow white cop. He ends up befriending his quarry, one Terry Quinn – a wound-up cross between Russell Crowe and Brad Pitt – and as they chase the case, wind up on a one-way road into the dark innards of the city’s drug scene.

Pelecanos’ prose is masculine, spare, no-shit screenplay from start to finish – replete with the requisite scenes of blood and brutal sex. In one episode, a white trash drug mule drops a two-hundred pound barbell on the throat of a fellow drug associate; in another, lead man Quinn hammers a criminal grunt with a meat tenderising mallet. Pelecanos is as keen to show off Washington’s screwed up insides - juxtaposed with hallucinations of rabbit-hole suburban yuppie existence from Starbucks to Lexuses – as he is to display his extensive knowledge of D.C.’s streets, cowboy movies, and black music.

The writing is powered by an intense and permeating racism, which soaks in everything from the characterisation to the restaurant food. The author’s handling of the novel’s explicit racial tension, if not exactly clumsy, is unapologetic in-your-face, at times, even preachy in its belligerence. Just getting along, is hopelessly naïve, sissy, uncool, and dangerously stupid.

Right as Rain is a guy novel at heart – Strange and Quinn’s friendship treads the racial tight-rope but its their mutual masculinity – cop fraternity, their mutual instinct for the hunt, and inability to commit to relationships. Even the women in the novel – the ones which are not clearly earmarked victims - serve mainly to show up the tormented psyches of their men.

If grimy street-noir crime fiction turns you on, Right as Rain might just be your kind of fix. Or wait for the movie to hit the theatres.