cover image The Big Blowdown

The Big Blowdown

George P. Pelecanos / Author St. Martin's Press $24.95 (0p) IS

After several well-received Nick Stefanos crime novels, (A Firing Offense; Nick's Trip; Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go), Pelecanos goes for broke with a gangster epic that chronicles 25 turbulent years of immigrant life in post-WWII Washington, D.C. He rises above the in-built predictability of the material to unleash a charged page-turner liberally doused with sex, death and irony. Pete Karras might be a confirmed skirt-chaser, but he's way too soft on the guys he's being paid to shake down. As a penalty for shirking his duty, he gets his legs broken and ends up limping through the streets he loves, working the counter of a diner owned by Nick Stefanos (the father, presumably, of the Nick who stars in Pelecanos's earlier books). When a kid shows up looking for a lost sister who's addicted to heroin and whoring to support her habit, Pete finds himself a cause. Whores, especially well-stacked ones, are being slit open in the city, and Karras's childhood pal, Jimmy Boyle, now a beat cop, is anxious for a collar. Joey Recevo, who grew up on the streets with Karras and Boyle, is still a shakedown artist, and now his next target is Nick's place. There isn't much in the plot that truthfully surprises, but the tale of these three friends and how their loyalties are tested is feverishly alive. Pelecanos lovingly recreates old Washington with small details about soft-drink brands, finned cars and cherished smokes. The ending is a haze of gunsmoke that drifts away to leave a mixed tableau of heroism and futility. With stylistic panache and forceful conviction, Pelecanos delivers a darkly powerful story of the American city. (May)