Monday, April 6, 2015

Shaken, Not Stirred

The Martini Shot: A Novella and Stories
by George Pelecanos
Little, Brown and Company

3 out of 5 stars.

I might have liked this martini more if it came with some blue cheese olives.

One of the things I love about Pelecanos is that he creates a great sense of time and place which makes his characters come alive, and I was slightly worried about reading this collection because I wasn’t sure how well he could pull that off in short stories rather than novels. The way he builds a character by describing the streets they walk, the liquor they drink, the music they hear, and the restaurants they eat in didn’t seem like seemed like something that he could condense down easily. 

However, I was pleasantly surprised at just how well he was able to almost instantly create characters you felt like you understood whether it was a middle-aged loser in an inner city trying to get his father’s respect by turning into a confidential informant to the cops or a ruthless insurance investigator chasing a lead to South America.

My favorite aspect was The Martini Shot novella which is the first person account of a TV writer working on a cop show in a rundown city who feels the need to get some justice for a friend who has been murdered. Pelecanos’ has done some TV and film work (Most notably his time as a producer and writer on The Wire.), and he made the whole day-to-day routine of working on a show interesting. He also does some clever stuff with the main character blending the real and fictional together while giving us the idea that he kind of sees himself as the lead in a crime story he’s writing. I’d be more than happy to read an entire book with this setting and character. My only complaint is that the sex scenes provided a graphic amount of detail that seem to cross over into soft core porn. Maybe he was going for some of those50 Shades of Grey readers.

The short story I liked most provided the background of one Pelecanos' lead characters in a series, Spero Lucas, by telling us how he came to be adopted by his parents and what their family was like when he was a kid. Those are things that have been touched on in the Lucas books, but this added a lot of details that I enjoyed. However, the problem is that like the rest of this collection, it really just made hungry for another Spero Lucas novel.

So while Pelecanos has the ability to write short stories, what I really wanted from almost everything I read here was more. (Except for those sex scenes. Then less would have been better.) It’s like Pelecanos is great chef who makes entrees that make my mouth water, but here he’s only offering a tray of appetizers. They’re great to pop in your mouth with that martini, but they don’t make for a full meal. 

Also posted at Goodreads.

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