Created by George P. Pelecanos (1957--)
George Pelecanos produces critically acclaimed novels that are very much in the hard-boiled tradition. His series character, Greek/American licensed private investigator NICK STEFANOS tends bar at The Spot in Southeast Washington, D.C. to make ends meet. He's a hard-livin', hard-drinkin' kind of guy (despite the fact he often has problems holding his liquor), who's not afraid of a little sex or/and violence. He seldom picks up trade by conventional means, finding himself working for friends, or because he's haunted by private demons.
When we first meet him though, in A Firing Offense (1992), he's an advertising grunt for a stereo store chain, pissing his life away, who takes on a piece of detective work as a favor. By the end of the book, he has applied for his detective's license.
These novels are swiftly plotted, with intricacies to rival Hammett or Raymond Chandler, and are filled with black humor, occasionally graphic violence, and allusions to local sites and culture that are a delight for local Washingtonians. Like most conventional P.I. literature they are first-person narratives, and as such are character studies as much as narrative fiction. Nick, who serves as narrator, is a complex character, a fuck-up with great potential, who too often finds himself alone and embittered, sandbagged by his own self-destructive tendencies.
All of these novels have achieved critical acclaim and a cult following. Originally printed in small numbers, antiquarian book dealers are now commonly asking upwards of $100 for the first two books in this series.
Pelecanos has also written the amazing Shoedog (1994), a novel that clearly found its inspiration in the great pulp fiction of the 1950s. It tells the story of Constantine, a young drifter hitchhiking on the lonely backroads of Maryland, who is picked up by an older man, Polk. The two develop a friendship, and Constantine accompanies Polk to a hideout in the Washington, D.C. suburbs where Polk tries to recover his share of some robbery money. The story unfolds from there in a series of violent episodes.
One of the wonderful things about Pelecanos writing is his refusal to pin his series characters down. They wander freely through all his books, stopping by here, passing by there, in ways that add depth to the narrative, without ever becoming a gimmick. The Big Blowdown (1996), set in the Greek and Italian immigrant communities in Washington DC during the early 1950, is actually a sort of prequel to the Nick books. The novel focusses on the protection scams which preyed upon immigrants, and the resulting violence when some refused to succumb to threats and intimidation. The descendants of the characters return in King Suckerman (1997) set in the bicentennial summer of 1976. It could be seen as the first in the Clay Marcus/Dimitri Karras series, a series that, at its heart, is an ongoing look at the meaning of friendship and the cost of honour between black entrpreneur Marcus and Greek-American ne'er-do-well Dimitri. The Sweet Forever (1998) and Shame the Devil (2000) have since followed. In 2001, Pelecanos released Right As Rain, which introduced a black private eye, Derek Strange, who's hired to investigate a white cop charged with shooting a fellow officer, and was the start of a new series.
Pelecanos' original British publisher, Serpent's Tail, boasted of George Pelecanos as the rightful heir to the noir tradition of James Cain, David Goodis and Jim Thompson, and judging from much of the critical praise he's received, they may be right. One reviewer has even called Pelecanos "the Zola of Washington," a reference he (and I) freely admits he had to look up.
George P. Pelecanos was born in Washington, D.C. in 1957, and worked as a line cook, dishwasher, bartender, shoe salesman, electronics salesman, construction worker, and retail general manager before publishing his first novel in 1992. The Big Blowdown was the recipient of the International Crime Novel of the Year award in both Germany and Japan; King Suckerman was shortlisted for the Golden Dagger award in the UK. His short fiction has appeared in Esquire and the collections Unusual Suspects and Best American Mystery Stories of 1997. He is an award-winning journalist and pop-culture essayist who has written for The Washington Post, GQ, Washingtonian, Your Flesh, and numerous other publications. An acknowledged movie freak, Pelecanos has had a second second career in television and film, behind the scenes. Until recently, he served as manager of Circle Films, a D.C. independent best known for producing the Coen Brothers' first three movies and for breaking John Woo's The Killer in the States. Most recently, he has written several scripts for David Simon's HBO crime drama The Wire and Treme, and in 2011 introduced a new P.I., Iraq war vet Spero Lucas.
Nick (or his ancestors) make small, but sometimes pivotal appearances in several of Pelecanos' other books, including:
Illuminating interview conducted by Crescent Blues, featuring Pelecanos and fellow crimewriter Dennis Lehane at a joint reading and book signing at the Mystery Bookshop in Bethesda, Md., in June 1999.
From Publishers' Weekly, a biography/interview with Pelecanos, conducted by Jennifer Schuessler in January 2000. A lot of background details on his life prior to writing the Stefanos series. "I thought writers were WASPy guys... not Greek kids like me who worked in carryout shops."
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