David's Reviews > Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go

Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go by George Pelecanos
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's review
Feb 25, 2012

really liked it
Read from February 25 to March 18, 2012

In my view, this was the book in which George Pelecanos put it all together and emerged as a great mystery writer. His first two books were exhilarating, but often seemed like he was trying to out-do Hunter Thompson in the amount of space dedicated to drug and alcohol binges. His first book, "A Firing Offense" seemed to have the plot as an afterthought. It was fun, but very undisciplined and not a lot of focus.

In "Down By the River Where the Dead Men Go", that is not the case. As if to pay homage to his old style of writing one last time, Pelecanos has his returning hero, Nick Stefanos, go on a bender, only to pass out and then be awakened by the sounds of a murder. The curiosity of the protagonist gets him involved in the case, and the plot unfolds from there.

The characters are a highlight in this book. Stefanos is in a relationship with a woman named Lyla, which is bending under the strain of too much drinking. In addition, another private detective, Jack LaDuke, is introduced, who is colorful and interesting. Best of all, Johnny MacGinnes from the first novel makes an appearance, and is his old, crazy self.

Unlike the first two Stefanos books, here, Pelecanos does not allow himself to be sidetracked by the drugs or the personalities. They play a supporting role to an interesting and well thought out plot. It unfolds with a pace and logic that would make Ross MacDonald proud. Along the way, a more thoughtful, even brooding tone takes over the mind of Nick Stefanos, as he seems to realize that his younger, partying self is giving way both to maturity and to a world that is somewhat threatening.

I don't want to give away the final conversation in the book, but do want to highlight it as a mark of the maturing style of Pelecanos. It is extremely well done, artful and pensive. It provides an excellent ending to a powerful story.
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