Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Drinking Detective

Nick's Trip
by George Pelecanos
Back Bay Books

Nick Stefanos walked away from his job as head of advertising for an electronics retailer to become a private investigator. At least that was the plan, but with the detective business being slow, Nick is also working as a bartender in a dive that lets him regularly indulge in his main hobby of binge drinking.

You might think that getting hired by his old friend Billy to track down his missing wife would get Nick to put a cork in the jug, but you’d be wrong.  Billy was doing business with a small-time gangster that Nick has a family association with through his late grandfather.   When not drinking, smoking cigarettes or listening to music. Nick tries to find Billy’s wife as well as poke into the murder of a newspaper reporter who was a friend of his.

Nick is a character that I recognize pretty well since he’s essentially me in my early 20s.  Minus the private detective thing.  Probably a lot of us could recognize ourselves in him during that time where we realize that we’re about to wave goodbye to our younger selves and don’t have a clear idea of what we’re supposed to do next.  The difference is that Nick is in his 30s and should have grown out of this by now.  He sentimentalizes his younger days of running wild through DC like a much older man and clings to the memories of things like a drunken road trip with Billy as if they were the only good things he’d ever experience.

In the previous book A Firing Offense, it seemed that Nick walking away from a job he didn’t like to take up the private detective game was a guy having the guts to change his life.  However, events here make that decision murkier.  Nick doesn’t do much to make his new detective business work other than put an ad in the Yellow Pages, and when he tries to get a job at big agency, he walks out when he finds it’s full of guys in suits.  You know, adults who have to stay sober and do their jobs all day.  So his leaving his old job to be a detective now kind of seems like a kid running off to be a cowboy or join the circus.

Even if Nick’s occasional boozy irresponsibility and aging bad boy act sometimes make you want to slap him in the back of the head and tell him to grow the hell up, he’s still a good guy that you root for to get his act together and solve the case.

Also posted at Goodreads.

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