Friday, September 28, 2018

Review: The Man Who Came Uptown

The Man Who Came Uptown The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

George Pelecanos may be working more on television than books these days, but the man still knows how to write one damn fine crime novel.

Michael Hudson has been in jail awaiting trial for taking part in the robbery, but doing time has been made easier by prison librarian Anna who helped him discover a love of reading. Fortunately for Michael his case is dismissed thanks to private investigator Phil Ornazian who gets the man he robbed to drop the charges. All Michael wants to do is clean up his act and spend his time reading some good books, but the PI didn’t spring him out of the kindness of his heart. In fact, Ornazian has a side business stealing from pimps and other criminals, and now he wants Michael to start helping.

It’s been a fantastic year of crime fiction for me, and this one continues my winning streak. I’d be happy enough to get an average Pelecanos book, but I think this is one of his best, maybe my favorite, even if he’s not doing anything particularly new here.

There’s the usual stuff like all the detail of life in Washington D.C. mixed in with a bit of nostalgia about how things used to be even if the way things used to be wasn’t always great. The characters are also pure Pelecanos, who always likes to stress a strong work ethic and simple pleasures. Michael fits this template as a guy who has realized that he’s been going nowhere fast, and who now has goals and starts planning. He may be starting at square one as a dishwasher, but as long as he can kick back with a book in his spare time, he’s content.

This even applies to Ornazian who you might expect to be a sleazy jerk, but he’s written as not that bad of a guy. He’s got a family that he’s trying to provide for and only robs criminals. Anna is also interesting as a lady with a seemingly perfect marriage who finds herself more than a little intrigued by Michael when they bump into each other after he’s released.

At less than 300 pages it’s also quick and tight as a drum. It’s a great blend of character and setting with a bit of action from the rip-offs that Ornazian pulls with his partner. As a constant reader I also always love it when an author manages to get across what makes it so great, and Pelecanos really sells the idea that Michael has fallen in love with books.

I also got to meet Pelecanos at a signing for this, and he had a lot of interesting things to say including talking about the prison reading program that he’s involved with and was obviously one of the inspirations for this book.

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