I meant to include this post a couple weeks back when I had decided to spend a bit more time writing about books for a week, rather than the TV/movies that tend to dominate this blog. I wound up busier than expected that week, and never got around to it. My essential point about Pelecanos as an author is that while he doesn’t write “LEGAL THRILLERS” he does write books that are more legally relevant than most legal thrillers. This is because Pelecanos tackles many of the underlying issues of the criminal justice system.
I was reminded of this when I had a client sentenced yesterday, and things did not go quite as I had desired. In the simplest terms, the sentencing was based on surface harshness rather than underlying realities. And, whenever I read something by Pelecanos, these underlying realities are ones that he writes about better than anyone I’ve been exposed to.
Admittedly, my exposure to writers is constantly evolving and my love for page-turners where I don’t need to think also eats up a lot potential discovery of new writers. But, anyway, The Way Home is a book that if you simply read the summary of without knowing Pelecanos, you’re probably not going to be inclined to leave with the book.
Summary!: dude finds 50k in the floor while remodeling a home. He doesn’t want to take the cash, but, alas, he’s not alone. He has a partner in the home to convince not to take the cash. People come to claim their cash from the home (what timing!), dudes die and things go south as Chris Flynn has to find THE WAY HOME.
So, yeah, if you’re not a reader of Pelecanos, I really don’t see how that summary is going to lead to buying this book. Which, is not me ripping Pelecanos. It’s just to say that if you don’t go into this experience comfortable that you’re going to get damn good characters built around this cliched plot, you might not go into it at all.
Pelecanos takes these characters from their time in juvenile incarceration, to their early 20s where they begin to either put that past behind them, or continue to fall to the same mistakes. What he creates is an environment where you begin to understand his characters better than most novels present. In doing this, you ask yourself questions about that environment, without Pelecanos providing a direct prompt. He delves deeper into the roots of criminality than most writers and he does it in a package that will undoubtedly leave you in thought.
Pelecanos is an important writer to me. Like I said in the open, without writing direct legal thrillers and using crime as a backdrop, he does a better job of bringing the reader to think about the criminal justice system and the role it plays in society. Are the desired effects of that justice system playing out? Why or why not? How do those choices affect the communities in which they are designed to protect?
Pelecanos creates characters that allow you to examine these issues.