cover image Shoedog


George P. Pelecanos / Author St. Martin's Press $19.95 (200p)

Sixty years ago, in The Postman Always Rings Twice , James M. Cain established the drifter as a dark knight of American crime fiction. Pelecanos ( Nick's Trip ) continues that tradition here, following Constantine, an enigmatic wanderer who falls into a den of thieves and disproves the adage that there's no honor among them. Hitchhiking south from Maryland to nowhere, Constantine takes a lift from an old man who stops at a country mansion to get some money. There Grimes, an equally old but wealthy man who organizes heists as a hobby, invites the pair to help rob two D.C. liquor stores. Swayed by ``the Beat'' (``the Beat was knowing that he was into something wrong, and the fear of it, and the point when the fear was no longer there. It was a hot buzz . . .''), Constantine signs on as a driver. He and his colleagues, who are all being blackmailed by Grimes, drink, plan and pick up women, with Constantine dangerously zeroing in on Grimes's young lover (``there was a freshness in her like newly printed money''). The robberies themselves, marred by a doublecross, go down fast and bad, leading Constantine to avenge his fallen partners by taking justice into his own hands. All sinners, none saints, the small-time hoods in this authentic world are crisply limned here in their fallible humanity. (May)