What It Was by George Pelecanos

Derek Strange is a newly minted private investigator when a young woman comes in asking for his help finding a cheap ring. As it turns out, the ring is connected to the murder of an acquaintance by a gangster name Red Fury (so named for the car that his girlfriend drives). During Strange’s  inquiries into the whereabouts of the ring, he hooks up with his former partner at the Baltimore Police Department, Frank Vaughn, a man whose views of black society and the world in general are outdated, and not in line with emerging 1970′s culture. The two ex-partners  end up more entwined in the case than they planned,  and tension between rival parties escalates and the body count continues to rise.

Pelecanos is often an astute observer of human behavior, relationships and language, but I had mixed feelings on this novel. Something about the distance of the voice in the storytelling, and maybe my own unfamiliarity with 1970′s, made Strange, Vaughn and the various villains come off as little more than caricatures – even as the story was engaging enough for me to want to see how it culminated at the end. This is not Pelecanos’s first outing with these characters, so it is possible that I am missing something in not having experienced the fullness of their history together, but still this short but full story fell flat to me in comparison with his other novels.

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