Spero Lucas - Tough P.I. & Iraqi Vet, D.C.
Nick Stefanos - Bartender, Private Investigator, Washington D.C., early 1990s
(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale MAR 3, 2003)
In this sequel to A Firing Offense, George Pelecanos' first book, Nick Stefanos has completely given up on his previous career as an advertisement executive for a retail electronics chain and is working as a bartender while attempting to grow his career as a newly licensed private investigator. As the story begins, Stefanos is hired to investigate the disappearance of the wife of Billy Goodrich, an old high school buddy.
Stefanos and Goodrich's strong friendship developed, but was not later sustained, during one significant high school road trip back in 1976. Now 15 years later, Stefanos and his friend again find themselves on a road trip as they investigate the disappearance of April Goodrich. Again they drink and fight their way to finding clues to the disappearance. Stefanos' past relationship with a Washington crime boss, a friend of Stefanos grandfather (who raised Stefanos), also comes into play as Goodrich's wife's relationship with the son of the crime boss becomes a critical component of the investigation. Stefanos' methods are successful in unwrapping the complex interactions of these characters and other "friends" of Goodrich and his wife.
In a separate investigation, Stefanos explores the murder of a reporter friend. In this investigation, where Stefanos is working for himself (and his dead friend), his investigative methods and interactions with people who may have helpful information, show his more positive side. His flirting with the reporter's boss and his compassion for the security guard whose actions may have lead to his friend's death, add interesting depth to the darker, drinking, fighting Stefanos that is more prevalent in the main investigation.
Some of the more interesting and often funny moments occur when Stefanos interacts with a bartender friend of a Lesbian bar near where he works. This friendship leads to some humorous and touching scenes when his friend asks him to help father a child for her and her partner. Although not a critical component of the novel, these parts of the book were surprisingly my favorite.
Readers of George Pelecanos' more recent works will recognize many of the same aspects in Nick's Trip that makes Pelecanos' books distinctive and enjoyable, but also dark and often depressing. The tougher parts of Washington D.C., the musical references, the crisp, realistic dialogue, and the flawed human characters are all present. Some of this is shown in this flashback scene about Stefanos and Billy Goodrich:
"I had part-time work as a stock boy, but on the days I had off, Billy and I shot hoops. Every Saturday afternoon we'd blow a monster joint, then head down to Candy Cane City in Rock Creek Park and engage in pickup games for hours on end. The teams ended up being "salt and pepper," and the losers did push-ups. Billy had a cheap portable eight-track player, and on those rare occasions where we'd win, he would blast J. Geils's 'Serve You Right to Suffer' over the bobbing heads of the losing team."
And in the next section as Billy Goodrich first asks for Pelecanos' help, the crisp realistic/Pelecanos dialogue:
"I tripped over your name in the phone book, to tell you the truth." Billy paused. "I was in the market for a private investigator."
"I called your answering service, and the girl said..."
"She's a grandmother."
"Okay, the old lady said I could get you down here. I was surprised she gave me the information so easily."
"She's the motherly type. Probably thought she was doing me a favor. Business has been slow, to say the least."
One thing that appears missing in both Nick's Trip and The Firing Offense, at least to me, are many likable characters (and frankly too many minor characters.). Although in Right as Rain and Hell to Pay, both Strange and Quinn have major, somewhat distasteful character flaws, they are still very likable. I'm still not sure I like Nick Stefanos. Clearly, he has some good characteristics and I found myself rooting for his success; however, his endless drinking weighs heavily in the book and I really want him to stop or at least cut down. I really did not have this problem with any of the early Lawrence Block Matt Scudder books, a similar character, whose drinking is definitely a problem. (Fans of Block's Scudder books would definitely enjoy these Pelecanos' books.) Perhaps my disliking of the Stefanos' drinking says more about me than about the book, but I find the drinking such a significant problem, that while I was reading the book, I was questioning whether I should read the next book in the series, Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go. By the end, I had no doubt I would read the sequel and the rest of the remaining Pelecanos backlog (assuming they ever issue Shoedog in the US).
Fans of Pelecanos will definitely want to read Nick's Trip especially to see how the distinctive, but somewhat still not fully formed Pelecanos story characteristics were present in his early books. Also, fans of well written, but dark crime fiction will enjoy this book. Pelecanos has said he mostly writes for men, but I'm sure women who enjoy well written books and do not mind the darker, crude, violent parts will certainly enjoy the book as well.
- Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)Featuring Derek Strange and Terry Quinn:
- Shoedog (1994)
- Drama City (2005)
- The Night Gardener (2006)
- The Turnaround (2008)
- The Way Home (2009)
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- Official George P. Pelecanos Web site
- Thrilling Detective page on Nick Stefanos
- MostlyFiction.com reviews of novels in the Derek Strange and Terry Quinn series
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Night Gardener
- MostlyFiction.com review of Drama City
- MostlyFiction.com other review of The Turnaround
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Way Home
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Cut
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About the Author:
P. Pelecanos was born in Washington, D.C. in 1957. He is a graduate
of the University of Maryland at College Park, and has worked as an electronics
salesman, shoe salesman, bartender, construction worker, and independent
film producer. He is a former employee of Circle Films, the company that
produced the early films of Joel and Ethan Coen (like Blood Simple and Miller's Crossing) and brought John Woo's The Killer to the U. S.
As a modern crime fiction author, Pelecanos is very much a descendant of the hard-boiled and noir schools. His style is tough and direct, in the best hard-boiled manner. All of his novels take place in Washington, D.C. and in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs; however, his plots do not involve the usual cadre of politicians or national intrigue, but instead depict the crimes and passions of the streets. His novel King Suckerman was a finalist for the Golden Dagger Award and is being produced as a movie by Sean Combs, and his novel, The Sweet Forever, was named a Notable Book of 1998 by Publishers Weekly. The HBO series, The Wire, is based on his screenplay.
He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife and two children.