DOWN BY THE RIVER WHERE THE DEAD MEN GO by George Pelecanos; St. Martin's Press, 1995

If the names Charles Willeford, David Goodis, James M. Cain or Jim Thompson do anything for you, than boy have I got a guy for you who is not only as good (in the case of Cain and Thompson he's arguably better, but that's just my opinion), and he's still alive and writing!

Down By The River... is the fourth book by Mr. Pelecanos and the third in the Nick Stefanos Mystery series (A Firing Offense, and Nick's Trip, preceding this; Shoedog not a part). Stefanos (like the author) is a Greek American residing in this Nation's capital. He smokes too much, drinks like every day is an Irish wake and isn't without the attendant cynicism gleaned from years of life in a big melting pot of a city. Formerly a retail appliance salesman, then adman, Nick's part-timing it as a barkeep and doing the private dick line on the side. As with most PIs, the forte is missing and or clipped people but generally speaking they're within the progenitors' own sphere: peers, friends, acquaintances or at the very least the brush of familiarity and or associated guilt/sense of responsibility for being there. Being a contemporary writer of our times, Pelecanos infuses his works with the rhythms and beats of now; whether it be the music his characters listen to, the clothes they wear or the simple ways they may speak, his is a voice of rare (and raw) authenticity. Somebody who isn't just saying things for their clever reference values and effect, but because he lives it day to day and writes it simply that way. When names like Trouble Funk or Fugazi are dropped you know he's not vying for credibility because his usage isn't cheap. And underneath the surface of Stefanos' roughly-hewn, warts and all exterior lies a decent, honorable (if not plainly vulnerable) man with the inherent sense of nobility that takes action when there's wrongs to be righted.

All of Pelecanos' books could be worthwhile movies (Shoedog, especially) and all would/could ably transcend the trendy glut of bleak/hard-bitten-boiled actioners currently enjoying the glut of disposable, silver screen entertainment dollars being spent if it weren't for the cult-like cloud he's enshrouded under right now (a close approximation on the printed page to the best of Woo's efforts: A Better Tomorrow; The Killer or the Coen Bros.' Blood Simple): all of his books, including this one have enjoyed instant collectible status by disappearing immediately off of bookstore shelves. Of course this wouldn't happen if he wasn't such a good writer to begin with, but with the limited attention comes the limited press run and therefore the collector's prices they spontaneously command (I paid dearly for all of them but this one). It would be nice if St. Martin's powers-that-be would divest them selves of a little more promotional energy. All of these books deserve paperback editions. They are after all Pulp Fiction (in the purest sense) masterpieces and Pelecanos would probably be able to enjoy a little more deserved popularity (and lucre) if folks could just, as a matter of basic convenience be able to obtain and stuff his books into their respective purses or back pockets.

-Peter Davis


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