The phrase "redemption noir" may sound like an oxymoron, but crime writer George Pelecanos (The Night Gardener Selection Nov/Dec 2006) manages to use that contradiction to drive The Turnaround.
The Story: Set, like many of Pelecanos’s other books, in Washington D.C., The Turnabout is anchored in a brawl that occurs in 1972. When a teenager named Alex Pappas and two of his white friends go looking for trouble in a black neighborhood, they find it in the Monroe brothers, James and Raymond, and their friend, the very nasty Charles Baker. In the ensuing brawl, Alex is horribly beaten and James winds up with a harsh prison sentence. The novel then leaps forward to the present day, when Raymond, now a physical therapist, contacts Alex, now a restaurant owner with a son in Iraq. The spiritual struggle these two men experience is juxtaposed against the machinations of Charles, who has changed very little in 40 years.
Little, Brown. 294 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 0316156477
"Pelecanos does what few, if any, American writers do: He tells the truth. Twain told the truth; Faulkner toyed with the truth; Hemingway told his version of the truth and Chandler certainly told a cold, cynical truth. Pelecanos’ truth is from deep in the heart, from places where red blood cells know more than all the sweet, heady words truth usually hides behind." Randy Michael Signor
Los Angeles Times
"[A] writer at the pinnacle of his craft. … And although Pelecanos pays homage to his crime-writing roots, uncoiling a lethal subplot involving no-good Charles Baker that spurs a fitting, if bloody, resolution, it is the central questions of how men can have purpose and atone for their sins that makes The Turnaround an indelible read." Paula L. Woods
"Although Pelecanos’s writing is rarely lyrical, much less literary, there’s a wonderful purity to it. … Many writers use endless gimmicks to hold the reader’s interest. There’s none of that in Pelecanos: no tricks, nothing forced, never a false note." Patrick Anderson
New York Times
"As George Pelecanos’s storytelling style increasingly takes on a blunt economy like Elmore Leonard’s, his central concerns become ever more clear: He writes about manhood. … [I]t’s also cogent and powerful, delivered without the preachiness into which Mr. Pelecanos has been known to lapse." Janet Maslin
"While George Pelecanos touches on the mystic in novels such as 2006’s acclaimed The Night Gardener, he never loses his feel for the mundane, which for him is more strength than fault. That’s certainly true of his latest book. Vivid locale, rich characterization, period features, a dense story and convincing realism fuel Pelecanos’ new tale of transformation." Carlo Wolff
While some may see shades of Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities in Pelecanos’s plot—both deal with the after effects of a racially charged incident in the inner city—in reality they have little in common. Critics all commended Pelecanos’s ethos and his focus on what it means to be a man in modern America, rich and poor and white and black. Some praised the experience he gained writing for the HBO series The Wire, which focused on the problems of people a lot like those in The Turnaround. There was the occasional hint that the repeated focus on What It Means to Be a Man bordered on annoying, but if anyone can use the mystery novel as a vehicle for introspection and spiritual longing, it’s Pelecanos.