Review: What It Was by George Pelecanos


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Orion books, 2012. Kindle edition. 744 KB. ASIN: B0071YPMJW.

The action takes place in Washington D.C, during the summer of 1972, just before the outbreak of the Watergate scandal. The story is inspired by a real case featuring a notorious D.C. criminal named Raymond “Cadillac” Smith, his name has been changed to Red “Fury” Jones.

Red Jones, after killing Bobby Odum, searches his pockets and finds a ring. He thinks it might be to the liking of his girlfriend, Coco, though it’s probably a fake, and takes it. The ring will pass from hand to hand throughout the book. Meanwhile, Coco was waiting him with the car running. They leave together.

It was a Plymouth Fury, the GT Sport, a two-door 440 V-8 with hidden headlamps and a four-barrel carb. The color scheme was red over white and its vanity plates read “Coco”.

At the same time a woman called Maybelline Walker hires Derek Strange, a black private investigator. She wants to find a ring. The ring description matches the one that Jones took away

Jones unleashes a spree of violence, along with Alfonzo Jefferson and his girlfriend Coco, with the foolish pretext of making history and that his name be remembered forever.

Frank Vaughn, a white homicide detective, follows the trail of Jones. Vaughn is a long-time pal and former teammate of Strange. Vaughn and Strange will join forces, as the tension increases.

Throughout the novel the reference to music, cars, clothes, …etc., that defined an era, are constant.

George Pelecanos is among my favourite crime fiction writers, maybe for this reason I expected more from him. In this particular case, it seems to me that his aim was to recreate only a certain time period. I can’t say I did not enjoyed this book, Pelecanos is able to set the pace like no other writer does but the story has an excess of unnecessary details, in my view, that may be only for the taste of an American audience. Good to spend a nice time.

My rating: 3/5.

What it Was has been reviewed much more favourably at Existential Ennui and by John Sheridan at The Mystery Bookshelf.


What It Was de George Pelecanos

La acción se desarrolla en Washington D.C, durante el verano de 1972, justo antes del  estallido del escándalo Watergate. La historia está inspirada en el caso real de un notorio criminal del Distrito de Columbia llamado Raymond “Cadillac” Smith, su nombre ha sido cambiado por el de Red “Fury” Jones.

Red Jones, después de matar a Bobby Odum, busca en sus bolsillos y encuentra un anillo. Él piensa que podría ser del agrado de su novia, Coco, aunque es probable que sea una falsificación, y se lo lleva. El anillo va a pasar de mano en mano por todo el libro. Mientras tanto, Coco le estaba esperando con el coche en marcha. Se marchan juntos.

Era un Plymouth Fury, el Sport GT, un dos puertas, 440 V-8 con los faros ocultos y un carburador de cuatro tubos. Su combinación de colores era de rojo y blanco y en su matrícula se podía leer “Coco”.

Al mismo tiempo, una mujer llamada Maybelline Walker contrata a Derek Strange, un detective privado negro. Quiere encontrar un anillo. La descripción del anillo coincide con el que Jones se llevó.

Jones desata una ola de violencia, junto con Alfonzo Jefferson y su novia Coco, con el pretexto absurdo de hacer historia y que su nombre sea recordado para siempre.

Frank Vaughn, un detective de homicidios blanco, sigue el rastro de Jones. Vaughn es un viejo amigo y ex compañero de Strange. Vaughn y Strange unirán sus fuerzas, a medida que la tensión va en aumento.

A lo largo de la novela la referencia a la música, a los coches, a la ropa, etc …, que definieron toda una época, son constantes.

George Pelecanos es uno de mis escritores favoritos de novela negra, tal vez por esta razón esperaba más de él. En este caso particular, me parece que su objetivo era volver a recrear un cierto período de tiempo. No puedo decir que no disfruté con este libro, Pelecanos es capaz de marcar el ritmo como ningún otro escritor es capaz de hacerlo, pero la historia contiene un exceso de detalles innecesarios, en mi opinión, que pueden ser sólo del gusto de un público norteamericano. Buena para pasar un rato agradable.

Mi calificación: 3/5.

7 thoughts on “Review: What It Was by George Pelecanos

  1. José Ignacio – Thanks for this fine review. I think that you probably like Pelecanos’ work better than I do, although I agree with you that he’s a very talented author. And you’re quite right that he is especially skilled at setting a context and giving readers a very effective sense of atmosphere. I’m glad you enjoyed this one, even if it was not your favourite Pelecanos.

  2. I’ve only read one book by Pelacanos and didn’t enjoy it either, although I know people rave about him. If I try him again I’ll remember not to read this one!

  3. I suspect he is a cultural historian rather than a crime writer in some ways. The Big Blowdown and other books are fictional documentaries that capture a zeitgeist. Brilliantly, I think, but he does certainly drop a lot of brand names. He also has a didactic, moral side that could be dreadful, but which I find often inspiring (cf The Way Home). His earlier books are very much about demonstrating masculinity, but some of the later ones are more about unpacking what is often destructive and self-defeating about American masculinity narratives, particularly in communities where success narratives are mostly stories about what one can’t possibly ever participate in.

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