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The Big Blowdown (D.C. Quartet #1)

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  1,973 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
Washington DC, 1946. For two local young men, Pete Karras and Joey Recevo, the easiest way to find work after the war is by providing a little muscle for a local boss who runs a protection racket with the Mafia. The trouble with Pete Karras is that he is just too soft on his fellow immigrants, and the last thing the boss wants is for his mob to get soft. The boys have to t ...more
Paperback, 313 pages
Published June 1st 2011 by Serpent's Tail (first published June 1996)
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Dan Schwent
Joe Recevo and Pete Karras were friends since they were kids, until their boss decided he didn't like Pete and had him badly beaten, giving him a crippling knee injury. Three years later, their lives will soon intersect when their old boss decides he wants Nick Stefanos, Karras' employer at a diner, to start paying him protection. Who will be left standing after the Big Blowdown?

Here we are. Another great book by George Pelecanos, the first in his DC Quartet. In the Big Blowdown, Pelecanos paint
Jun 18, 2013 Kemper rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My first George Pelecanos novel was King Suckerman which I bought after hearing a radio interview with him on NPR back in the late ‘90s. I didn’t realize it at the time but that was actually the second book in his DC Quartet series, and while I went on to read the rest of those as well as his Strange & Quinn series along with several of his stand-alone novels, I never went back and read his earlier Nick Stefanos novels or this one until recently. After finally working my way through those, I ...more
Jonathan Peto
In the first chapters, it is 1933 and Peter Karras is an 11 year old son of Greek immigrants in Washington DC. Those chapters simultaneously attracted my attention and worried me. The milieu Pelecanos created appealed to me, in part because Peter Karras’ world reminded me of my father’s. Though their regions and ethnicities differed, details continuously evoked memories of my grandparent’s environs and way of life. However, I occasionally wondered if I would ultimately regret picking up The Big ...more
Larry Bassett
Apr 15, 2011 Larry Bassett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, crime
This is one of Pelecanos’ early books. The Big Blowdown was published in 1996. It already has many of the Pelecanos trademarks that you will still find in his stories 15 years later: camaraderie, cars, violence, smoking and poverty. It is part of the DC Quartet of Pelecanos books published from 1996 to 1999. Yes, that works out to one a year. The other three books are King Suckerman, The Sweet Forever and Shame the Devil. I am looking forward to reading them in that order. I often read Pelecanos ...more
James Thane
Aug 23, 2010 James Thane rated it liked it
"The Big Blowdown" is one of George Pelecanos's earlier books (1996), which explores the lives of a number of boys, descendants of Greek and Italian immigrants, who are friends during the depression years of the 1930s and who then grow into adulthood. Most of the book takes place in the post-war years as these men, now young adults, search for their places in the world.

Some of them, of course, make better choices than others. Two of the principal characters, Pete Karras and Joe Recevo come home
Bill Rogers
Jul 14, 2011 Bill Rogers rated it it was amazing
This was my introduction to George Pelecanos - the first of his that I read. I was immediately hooked. There is something about the immediacy of his language and depth of characterisation that draws you in regadless of the quality of the plot. I think that was furtehr emphasised in the brillant series - The Wire- where his writing and that of Dennis Lehane, shone through. I have read everything he's written since - most recently The Way Home - and I think of all the modern Americal crime writers ...more
Tom V
Jun 10, 2012 Tom V rated it really liked it
Pete Karras is back home after his time as a Marine in the Pacific battlefields of WWII. Drifting, he ends up on the wrong end of the deal with bad men, and now is slowly coming back into the world. His is a gray exisitence, neither white nor black, good nor bad, but he is wounded in body and spirit, and as we shall see, it's not a sure thing that he will ever be whole.

Back story gives us a growing-up perspective, with childhood pals who are woven into Pete's life as an adult, some on the good s
The Cannibal
Feb 08, 2015 The Cannibal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
DC, vous connaissez ? Non, je ne parle pas du groupe AC/DC ! DC... Washington DC (pour District Columbia), bande de moules.

En suivant le jeune Peter Karras - Spartiate d'origine - lors de sa jeunesse dans les années 30, juste après la Grande Dépression, en passant par la Seconde Guerre Mondiale et jusqu'en 1949, nous suivons aussi la ville de Washington DC dans ce qu'elle a de plus sombre.

De 1933 à 1949, ce sont les quartiers les pauvres que nous explorons aux travers de quelques personnages...
Dec 01, 2007 Dan rated it it was amazing
This would also be one that would stand as one of his "serious" novels because it paints a picture of the 1930s and the lives of immigrants in the DC area. James Sallis writes in the intro to the book: "He writes of immigrants, of blacks, of the young, of all the damaged and disadvantaged and discarded shut away in rented rooms or shuttled aside into bars and diners reeking of stagnant time till, their moment come around at last, they erupt, burn furiously, and expire." Wow-that's pretty much it ...more
Quel plaisir de retrouver les polars de Pelecanos et tout ce qui en fait une collection de perles noires. Les points de vue multiples clairs et complexes. Les personnages suivis par coups d’œil à leur vie, à leurs connexions qui finissent dans une grande explosion, faisant écho au titre original, The Big Blowdown. Et la ville, toujours Washington DC, en pleine mutation dans la décennie qui suit la fin de la deuxième guerre mondiale, la ville comme personnage à part entière, avec ses personnalité ...more
Aug 19, 2016 Thomas rated it it was amazing
Shelves: noir
I loved this richly textured noirish crime novel set in the Greek community of Washington DC in the immediate postwar era. I came to it because I was so frustrated with James Ellroy's "Perfidia," and Pelecanos's DC Quartet seems to be one of the few crime series at all similar or related to Ellroy's LA Quartet. Unfortunately, from what I can tell they're not even remotely similar. The two authors have styles so unbelievably different it's pretty much impossible to compare them. Nonetheless, I lo ...more
Duke Cullinan
Good, steamy noir setting and style. Look at the cover, and that's what it feels like. However, speaking of steam, the author runs out of it stylistically. Over the course of the novel he gets quite repetitious trying to hammer home the dark, gritty mood. I was struck and irritated (and I still remember this now 10 years after having read the book) with the cigarette smoking descriptions. Especially something like, "He took the Raleighs from his pocket and shook a cigarette out of the pack." The ...more
Jan 28, 2010 Joe rated it liked it
It is an gripping crime story from post-WWII Washington, DC, with a little bit pre-war. I found the beginning slow, describing the interactions of the protagonist with his childhood friends and his stint in the Pacific Theater of WWII. Once the story moved to Washington, DC, 1949, it picked up, turning into a story of rust belt kids finding their way in the big city and Greek restauranteurs trying to stay outside the province of local organized crime. Throw in a Jack the Ripper-style string of ...more
Nev Percy
Jun 09, 2013 Nev Percy rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who can handle the Americana, mild drugs, or characters' misogyny in this realistic account
Recommended to Nev by: Jo Clarke
[Unhidden spoilers in the following.]

To an extent this (my first Pelecanos book) read as an exercise in 'painting by numbers' -- drop in the references to historical events, period detail like the geography of Washington DC, the cars, the clothes, the music, the booze and cigarettes, and the popular obsession with following the boxing, and Bob's your uncle. Much of this Americana detail just washed over me (as a Brit) -- evocative, but without any special resonance.

But that doesn't do justice to
Jun 18, 2014 Matt rated it it was amazing
I've been following Pelecanos' career for a while now, reading anything of his I could get my hands on, and I think you can pinpoint this as the novel where he really hits his stride; all the familiar themes are there - friendship, manhood, loyalty, car, music, films, women - but they are handled so smoothly. Plus the dialogue and characters fizzle and the historical setting adds weight. The back of the book namechecks Tarantino, but I think it's more Scorcese.
Jul 15, 2016 Karen marked it as to-read
* 1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list: Crime

Selected by the Guardian's Review team and a panel of expert judges, this list includes only novels – no memoirs, no short stories, no long poems – from any decade and in any language. Originally published in thematic supplements – love, crime, comedy, family and self, state of the nation, science fiction and fantasy, war and travel – they appear here for the first time.
Nov 08, 2010 Paul rated it really liked it
A taut crime novel set mostly in postwar Washington, D.C.

I usually don't care for crime and suspense, but Pelecanos's style lifts the book above formula, with his fine eye for plotting and ability to sketch his characters quickly and effectively. His prose only occasionally lapses into the sentimentality or tough-guy-speak that one usually finds in crime novels. Overall, though, his portrait of Washington, D.C. in the 40s sings, with not a single detail ringing false. He builds suspense not thro
Jan 08, 2010 Peter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2010
This is the book equivalent of the Jet song "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?" The first time you hear that song, you're like, "Haven't I heard this already?" Then you're like, "This song isn't very original." But then you're like, "F it, this song rocks, let's dance."

This book starts off slow, with the ol' "childhood friends from the neighborhood grow up and one is a gangster" gag. It doesn't miss many film noir cliches, and it's packed with so many 40's pop culture references that you wonder if Pelec
Aug 17, 2013 Gordon rated it really liked it
This is adult detective stuff, like Raymond Chandler and James Elroy. He's wonderful, sad, and beautiful. The central character, Pete Karras is just as mixed as Sam Spade, but he has the same gutty, gritty honor that makes him admirable. His friends look up to him while he sees himself for the flawed, fallen man he is. He and his best friend, Joe Recevo, refer to him as a Spartan, someone from northern Greece. He is just as admirable as those Spartans we read about as schoolboys. The mob tries t ...more
Nov 26, 2012 Harry rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2012
Dieser Roman ist ein Juwel. Die Geschichte spielt im Washington der 1940er- und 1950er-Jahre. Im Mittelpunkt stehen griechische ImmigrantInnen bzw. Unterschichten der Post-WWII-Gesellschaft.

»Big Blowdown« (dt. im Dumont-Verlag erschienen, leider mit einigen Übersetzungs- und Druckfehlern) ist ein kolossaler Roman über Schattenseiten des »amerikanischen Traums«, so genannte kleine Leute und den Strudel organisierter Kriminalität. Pelecanos hat sehr glaubhafte und vielschichtige Charaktere entwor
Jan 24, 2010 Michael rated it liked it
After being blown away by The Night Gardner, I wanted to go back and read some of Pelecanos's earlier novels. This is the first of his DC Quartet, and I'll refrain from passing complete judgment until I've read them all.

On its own, this book definitely pales in comparison to The Night Gardner. On the plus side, it oozes atmosphere. I have no basis to judge its accuracy, but I found the portrayal of post-war DC totally believable. Pelecanos tells the story of DC not from its worst-off, not from i
The first Pelecanos I read, and one of the best. The richness of the community and its history -- should say, communities and their histories, as Pelecanos is ecumenical about his D.C. -- is as good as any writer's, anywhere. I think I'm up to 8 now, and I still have this in the upper tier, along with stalwarts like Hard Revolution, King Suckerman, and The Cut.

This may still be my #1...due for a re-read.
Jul 20, 2009 Jessica rated it really liked it
It took me a while to get into this novel but I ended up liking it as well as any of his Nick Stefanos books, which I read last year. Pelecanos tells a good, if violent, story but he also builds strong characters. Center to this story is Pete Karras, a WWII veteran who mixes with low-level mobsters after he returns from the Pacific and ends up with a bum leg and a job at a cafe. His efforts to save a co-worker's sister and protect his boss from gangsters leads him right back to the mob and an ol ...more
Aug 15, 2014 SA rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
meh. this book did very little for me. the description was simplistic and a bit passe. and when the author went to lengths to describe music or a vehicle, I felt like he was just dumping his research on me.

whle the book implied gritty characters, ideals and thoughts, the work is far from gritty. at one point, the author makes reference to a character reading a dime store novel. for me, that's what this book was.

the only debate for me was whether it was a two or three star. going with three as
Jared Prebish
Aug 21, 2012 Jared Prebish rated it it was amazing
Back in 1999 ( I think), I bought this book based on the cover (not the one pictured here). I needed some vacation reading and I took a big chance. One of the best books I've read in the last 15 years, I really loved the DC portrayed by Pelecanos. Yes this was the 40's, but you get a great sense of the non political DC. You see real people with real problems. The main characters are flawed, but it doesn't make them any less likeable. These are important traits of a Pelecanos novel. He gives you ...more
Matthew Shoe
Feb 11, 2015 Matthew Shoe rated it liked it
Great writing, lots of great imagery you'd expect from an A or B+ classed novel. I did get sidetracked at times, trying to soak in all the musical/1940's pop culture references, see. This book is grittier than most things I read: containing a fair amount of sex, adultery, prostitution, violence, etc. Lots of riveting action in the 2nd half of the book. The main character, though greatly flawed, was one I found myself really rooting for. [possible spoiler for some here:] Had I liked the ending, I ...more
Victoria Blake
Aug 22, 2014 Victoria Blake rated it it was amazing
Pelecanos is one of my all time favourite crime writers and this is one of his best. Great characters and a gripping plot.
Jul 01, 2013 Zach rated it really liked it
Probably one of Pelecanos best!!

He clearly draws on his own family and personal history to create very real characters in realistic settings.

His depiction of conflicted/flawed people creates three dimensional characters.

His dialogue here seems more self assured than some of his other modern, urban thrillers where similar to a Quentin Tarantino movie, you are at times very aware that a white guy from the suburbs is writing inner city, criminal dialogue.

If you are familiar with Washington DC, th
Dec 01, 2015 Jon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Before there was Hard Revolution , there was The Big Blowdown , each with an exquisite sense of time and place.
Mar 06, 2015 Nicole rated it liked it
Gritty. Italians and Greeks in NYC
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George P. Pelecanos (born 1957 in Washington, D.C.) is an American author of detective fiction set primarily in the capital of the United States, Washington, D.C. He is also a film and television producer and a television writer. He has worked extensively on the HBO series The Wire. His novels use an ensemble cast of characters, following their exploits across several generations. While there are ...more
More about George Pelecanos...

Other Books in the Series

D.C. Quartet (4 books)
  • King Suckerman
  • The Sweet Forever
  • Shame the Devil

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