Thursday, January 17, 2019

Review: King Suckerman

King Suckerman King Suckerman by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the summer of ‘76 best buddies Marcus Clay and Demetri Karras are spending their free time playing pick-up basketball games while everyone in Washington DC is buzzing about the upcoming bicentennial celebration and a new blaxplotation flick called King Suckerman. As a Vietnam veteran and owner of a record shop Marcus is the more grown-up of the two while Demetri has no ambition beyond being a small time pot dealer. When Marcus accompanies Demetri to buy some weed the two end up in confrontation that makes them instant enemies of the dangerous Wilton Cooper and his gang of killers.

The two main characters are the strongest part with Marcus being the hard worker who has a sense of responsibility that doesn’t allow him to let things slide. Demetri is the flip side of this as the slacker who despite being a decent guy deep down can always find an excuse to take the easy way out. Despite their differences Pelecanos creates a believable bond between the two, and he often uses similar types of people in his other novels. He also builds up a great cast of supporting players around them including the murderous Wilton Cooper.

The other great aspect is Pelecanos’ ability to evoke the setting of Washington DC of a certain time. By using a mix of local history and geography combined with vivid descriptions of cars, clothes, food, and especially music, Pelecanos makes you feel like you’re driving in an Dodge Charger with the 8-track cranked up on your way to catch a late showing of King Suckerman.

It’s also incredibly patient novel that isn’t filled with action. It’s very easy to get caught up with Marcus and Demetri as well as the other characters as they just go about their lives with nothing huge happening. You can even forget that this is a crime novel at heart which makes the violence that much more shocking and awful when it does come.

This is the first novel by George Pelecanos I ever bought, and I got my old 1998 paperback copy of it signed a few months back when I got to meet him at a book singing. That prompted this long overdue reread, and it gave me a new appreciation for what he does in these books.

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