September 10, 2006


Ten Thousand Bullets: D.C. lifer George Pelecanos writes about murder, drug feuds, riots, dog-fighting—and also a little violence (Peter S. Scholtes, July 19, 2006, City Pages)

As the American distributor for John Woo's The Killer in 1990, George Pelecanos wrote the immortal movie poster tagline "One Vicious Hitman. One Fierce Cop. Ten Thousand Bullets." Since then, he has built a somewhat more complex body of crime fiction as a novelist and writer-producer for HBO's The Wire. [...]

Along with Richard Price of New Jersey, and Dennis Lehane of Boston, Pelecanos was recruited for HBO's highly novelistic Baltimore cops-and-dealers series The Wire, with a fourth season airing this fall. The son of a Marine who fought in WWII, Pelecanos has also scripted two hours of a forthcoming Pacific version of Band of Brothers, The Pacific War. He has a historian's appetite for period pieces, having set novels in the '40s, the '70s, and the '80s. The 1968 portion of Hard Revolution (2004) could almost pass for a definitive narrative history of the April riots.

Pelecanos is also the rare American writer of man's-man fiction who is fascinated not just by the mechanics of violence but by its blowback. Shame the Devil (his last book to feature recurring characters from his first eight novels) has the structure of a revenge story, but hinges on a court-funded grief-support group. Drama City's gangster-turned-animal-control cop believes that some men, like some dogs, can't be saved—and hopes he's not one of them. [...]

CP: I'm actually surprised your books aren't attacked more often.

Pelecanos: I don't have an aversion to success or anything, but if I wanted to just hit the bestseller lists and make more money, I wouldn't be writing these kinds of books. I'm not giving people what they want. I'm trying to challenge them. I'm trying to be as honest as I can about what I see out there, and in a way I'm paying a little bit of a price for it, where this guy [in the Washington Post], he basically attacked me because I'm white.

CP: Well, plenty of black writers are on record saying, "Of course white writers should write black characters." But there's still this history of minstrelsy, and of whites talking for other people, that gets in the way.

Pelecanos: Right. And it's going to get in the way, but it shouldn't stop me from doing what I'm doing. I mean, I don't like being attacked. But if I only stuck to what I knew, then my books would only be about middle-aged Greek guys.

CP: So when you're researching a drug dealer character, do you ever just say to a kid on a corner, "Can I hang out with you for a day?"

Pelecanos: I've had people call me. Up until a year ago I was in the phone book. I wanted to stay in there but I was getting weird calls. Anyways, I had guys call me and say, "I really want to let you in my world." The Wire really opened up a lot of doors for me like that. I've had guys write me from prison, and I've followed them out, and they've taken me under their wing when they've come out. And I've been real fortunate in that way. I don't have any problem going to these places. It's not that I'm tougher than anybody. It's just I feel like I'm very comfortable here. It's my city, and I know how to talk to people, and it's all about respect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 10, 2006 8:44 AM

Well, I just ordered "King Suckerman" to give Pelecanos another chance to impress. The synopsis gives me hope.

Posted by: Patrick H at September 10, 2006 11:45 AM

I hope The Pacific War is better than Band of Brothers. Sometimes a group of guys just isn't that interesting.

Posted by: RC at September 10, 2006 12:04 PM