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The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos

December 22, 2018

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Toward the end of this year, I started re-watching The Wire. I’d heard an interview with the author of All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire and was reminded of what an amazing show it is. It’s amazing not just because of David Simon, but because of some of the other top writers on the show—novelists like Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos.

Pelecanos writes smart, gritty crime, most of it based in Washington, D.C. I read The Turnaround back in 2012 and thought it felt more like a TV show than a novel. This isn’t a criticism—more to say it was lean and tight, with little extraneous plot. This is fairly common for crime novels. Lehane’s The Drop, David Benioff’s The 25th Hour, Richard Price’s The Whites, pretty much all of Elmore Leonard’s works are crisp and to the point, which is why they’re easily and often adapted into films.

The Man Who Came Uptown fits in this tradition. The protagonist, Michael Hudson, is released from prison after the man he robbed, a drug dealer, decides not to testify. Once out, he’s recruited by a D.C.-based private investigator named Phil Ornazian. Ornazian helped “persuade” the drug dealer not to testify against Hudson, and now he figures Hudson owes him one. Which he’d like to cash in on by having Hudson help him in his side game—robbing drug dealers and pimps.

It’s a morally ambiguous world and like most good crime fiction, there’s at least a little bad in everyone. But this novel has a side game going as well—it’s partly about great books. Hudson, while in prison, was turned onto literature by the prison’s librarian. He found that reading fiction teleported him out of his cell, so he devoured it. Good stuff, like Steinbeck, Tim O’Brien, Elmore Leonard. Because of this, I read Leonard’s Valdez is Coming and pulled Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling off my shelf. I like books about books. Especially hidden in a really good crime novel.

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