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The Turnaround by George Pelecanos

February 8, 2012

In the summer of 1972, three white kids in Washington, DC, bored and buzzed, drive into a black neighborhood looking for trouble. They find a group of African-American boys, yell a racial slur and bean one of them with a fruit pie. They are, as the saying goes, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Racial tensions have been running high in DC. The black kids are also bored and perhaps happy that trouble has made its way into their neighborhood. And as the white kids drive away, they quickly realize that they’ve driven into a dead end. One of the boys runs off. Another tries to escape but is beaten down. The third is shot in the back and killed.

Most of this novel takes place thirty years after that incident. It examines what has happened to the five now-grown men. The incident was a pivotal moment in each of their lives, and the book explores how they were shaped by it. The Turnaround is a crime novel, but it is a crime novel turned on its head. There is no sleuthing, no hunting for fingerprints or shaking down witnesses. There is suspense, as one of the guys from the incident, in and out of jail over the years, hasn’t quite been able to let it all go. But for the most part, this is a pretty introspective book, definitely a genre-bender.

I don’t read much crime fiction, but I found The Turnaround pretty compelling. The writing is sparse but solid. The dialogue is particularly realistic (Pelecanos wrote extensively for The Wire). The metaphor of the turnaround (not just the road, but how one can turn his life around after a devastating mistake) is a little heavy-handed, but the backwards plot structure, with the pivotal, climactic moment coming early in the book, works surprisingly well.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jason permalink
    April 18, 2012 4:26 pm

    I read The Night Gardener by Pelecanos a few years ago and really enjoyed it. It is a bit more of a whodunit, but not done in a typical way.

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