three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-The Way HomeInternational award-winning novelist George Pelecanos is well known for his gritty thrillers depicting the squalid, crime-ridden side of his beloved Washington, D.C. (see The Turnaround 4 of 5 Stars Selection Nov/Dec 2008, and The Night Gardener 4 of 5 Stars Selection Nov/Dec 2006). He is also a film and television producer who worked most recently on HBO’s police drama The Wire.

The Story: Young Chris Flynn, having paid his debt to society for a violent assault, is released from juvenile detention and given a job in his father’s flooring company. His father Thomas Flynn is an ex-cop who blames himself for Chris’s delinquency. Thomas tries to guide him into adulthood, but his lessons are put to the test when Chris and a friend from prison, Ben, find a gym bag stuffed with $50,000 under the floorboards of a house where they are installing new carpet. Chris convinces Ben to put it back, but Ben is unable to keep the secret. Soon, they set off a game of cat-and-mouse that could cost the boys their lives.
Little, Brown. 336 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 0316156493

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"The Way Home is an action-packed, suspenseful mystery story that explores family loyalty and friendship. Pelecanos, as usual, writes crackling prose that propels the reader forward, turning the pages deep into the dark night." Chuck Leddy

South FL Sun-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Pelecanos, who earned an Emmy nomination for his stint as a screenwriter for HBO’s The Wire, makes the old saw of finding a bag of tainted money fresh and original. The Way Home offers additional proof that Pelecanos continues to be one of today’s top crime fiction authors." Oline H. Cogdill

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Way Home remains true to its titular purpose; as a result, the structure is perhaps less weighted toward a classic narrative arc and more toward the journey itself. As with his last two novels, Pelecanos demonstrates that redemption, if it comes at all, is hard-won." Sarah Weinman

New Yorker 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Despite its hard-charging elements, the story unfolds almost languidly, and it is clear that Pelecanos, a seasoned novelist and a writer for The Wire, means to provoke more than quickened heartbeats. His passionate advocacy for juvenile-prison reform—and his well-reasoned argument that a poorly run system can punish petty offenders far more severely than their crimes merit—occasionally turns the plot into a polemic."

Washington Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Sometimes, Mr. Pelecanos gives in to the sort of prime-time plotting that solves the characters’ problems in 44 minutes of airtime, and his denouement leans uncomfortably toward TV sentimental. But between the wonderful dialogue, the characters who unpeel like onions before your eyes, and action that punches from the shoulder and hip—the very technique Thomas Flynn taught young Chris—Mr. Pelecanos brings things off with bravura." John Weisman

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"After taking his sympathetic portrayal of the father-son standoff as far as it can go, Pelecanos remembers that he needs to work some serious crime into the story. … But the device Pelecanos engineers—the discovery of a gym bag with nearly $50,000 in cash—is too tame to support the violence that follows." Marilyn Stasio

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"A secret bag of money? It’s as shopworn as it sounds, and the loudest false note in The Way Home. Ben and Chris’s reaction also stretches credulity: Would anyone really replace an old bag of money back in a floor, particularly when it seemed to have been there for years?" Kevin Allman

Critical Summary

Pelecanos received mixed reviews on his latest thriller. While some critics complained of the clichéd hidden bag of money, others countered that Pelecanos’s clever writing, sympathetic characters, and nuanced portrayal of a difficult, heartrending father-son relationship offset an otherwise hackneyed plot device. His vivid descriptions of Washington, D.C., and its racial and social tensions rise above the genre and pose important questions about the nature of loyalty and what it means to be a man in the midst of urban decay and violence. Though the Washington Times felt that Pelecanos couldn’t separate the author from the screenwriter and the New York Times Book Review cited a lack of tension or direction in the plot, Pelecanos’s fans will enjoy this suspenseful thriller.