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What It Was (Derek Strange & Terry Quinn, #5)
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What It Was

(Derek Strange & Terry Quinn #5)

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  2,126 ratings  ·  274 reviews
Washington, D.C., 1972. Derek Strange has left the police department and set up shop as a private investigator. His former partner, Frank "Hound Dog" Vaughn, is still on the force. When a young woman comes to Strange asking for his help recovering a cheap ring she claims has sentimental value, the case leads him onto Vaughn's turf, where a local drug addict's been murdered ...more
Paperback, 246 pages
Published January 23rd 2012 by Back Bay Books
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Average rating 3.74  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,126 ratings  ·  274 reviews

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Start your review of What It Was (Derek Strange & Terry Quinn, #5)
Dan Schwent
Nov 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013, pelecanos
When Derek Strange is hired to find a missing ring, he has no idea what he's getting into. Robert Jones, aka Red Fury, is on a crime spree, looking to make a name for himself, and Frank Vaughn is on the case. Will Strange find the ring he's looking for? Can Frank Vaughn prove he isn't too old and bring Red Fury in?

And now, I can add "Read the complete novels of George Pelecanos in 2013" to my resume.

I was hooked on What it Was from the first page. Derek Strange and his new partner, Nick Stefanos
Dec 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
‘What It Was’ is a sequel of sorts to ‘Hard Revolution’ and focuses more so on the criminal perspective rather than the PI angle of other Derek Strange novels. Frank Vaughn (aka Hound Dog), reunites with Derek, their bond formed in the blood of a criminal in ‘Hard Revolution’ is ever present. Derek, having quit the police force is now running a fledging PI firm is asked by an attractive woman to track down a ring of sentimental value. Vaughn, for his part, is investigating the murder of a local ...more
Jan 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"Red Fury he's the Man
Try and stop him if you can!"

This novel stemmed from George's novel The Night Gardener where a character Red 'Fury' Jones was planted as a fable, he wanted to give a whole story with him in as the bad boy.
And what a story it is, well done this is a throwback to the bygone days of Plymouth automobiles, Afro puffs, when single tracks were on 45 records needed of a spacer, no mobiles, social media, or CCTV. Good old detective work knocking down doors and shacking up perps.
James Thane
Aug 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
In 2001, in Right as Rain, George Pelecanos introduced Derek Strange, an ex-cop turned private detective in Washington D.C., where virtually all of Pelecanos's books are set. Strange would ultimately appear in three other novels, and this book makes the fifth.

On a rainy afternoon in 2011, Strange, who is now on the wrong side of sixty, is sitting in a bar with his pal, Nick Stefanos. A song comes up on the jukebox, as songs are wont to do in a George Pelecanos novel, and it sets Strange to remin
Jan 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is a lot like the decade in which it's set: the garish fashions tend to overshadow the substance, the plot feels loose and sprawling, everybody is collapsing into crass, and the specter of Richard Nixon stinks it up like the bad smell from your local paper mill. Even Amazon's strategy of selling the e-book for 99 cents for its first month makes it seem disposable in a pop way. All of these elements make for a fun, funky read. Pelecanos apparently dashed this off in the summer of 2011 ( ...more
Jan 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: D.C. crime novel fans
Recommended to Ed by: longtime author fan
I've been an avid George Pelecanos fan going back for over a decade now. For starters, he uses a lot of musical references from the time period when I listened to rock-and-roll, so I can hear the songs. WHAT IT WAS is like that, as well. Secondly, he describes in loving detail the cool rides his characters drive. Thirdly, he uses the D.C. locales, where I live, as his settings. This brisk crime novel also involves a couple of organized crime thugs, something not too often seen in D.C. crime nove ...more
Larry H
Feb 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
George Pelecanos, you are easily one of my most favorite crime writers around. I seriously don't understand why you aren't more of a household name given how talented you are. Your ability to evoke a specific time and place, to create tremendously memorable characters set you apart from so many of your peers, and I've found myself getting attached to a number of your protagonists over the years. Just promise me you'll continue writing this type of book, because you're at your best when the actio ...more
Marty Fried
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, action
Great background if you're into this series. Tells about when Strange started out as a PI.

I really get to feel like a part of the life in DC for a black man, without having to be black - or live in DC. It's really different, but the books seem authentic from what I know of the black culture. At the time of this story (just before Nixon and Watergate), I was working at the main Oakland, CA post office, mostly with blacks. I actually enjoyed getting to know the wide variety of black people there,
Jan 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Much of the attention around George Pelecanos’ new book, WHAT IT WAS, has focused on the quite brilliant way that the good folks at Mulholland Books are publishing and marketing it. In case you haven’t read about it, instead of the standard e-book and hardcover release followed months later by a paperback edition, WHAT IT WAS is available now as a 99-cent e-book, a trade paperback for $9.99, or a limited-edition, signed and slip-cased hardcover for $35.

I think this is quite brilliant, but the re
Sep 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Solid crime novel featuring, once again, private investigator Derek Strange. Generally, I've enjoyed the novels in the series, but have always felt they were a bit uneven. On top of that, I've had trouble connecting with Strange. But that changes here. In What it Was, the reader encounters Strange as he's just starting out. My reservations about the character, what makes him tick, were pretty much answered in this novel.

The story itself is standard stuff. A local badass, "Red Fury," kills a pat
Ed [Redacted]
Jun 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
This book was one hell of a lot of fun. It was like a well written Shaft movie or something. Set in 1972 and chronicling the story of Red "Fury" Jones, Frank "Hound Dog" Vaughn, Derek "About The Only Guy With No Nickname" Strange and a cast of excellent and believable characters. Vaughn and Strange chase Red as he runs through a wild crime spree in Washington DC.

Pelecanos captures the slang, fashion and attitude of the early 70's urban culture about as well as anyone I've read in this fast pace
Mar 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Derek Strange left the police department to set up shop as a private investigator while his old partner Frank “Hound Dog” Vaughn remained. When a young woman comes to Strange to help find a costume ring, it leads him right to Vaughn’s active homicide case. Now both of them are working together trying to find a ruthless killer known as Red Fury.

George Pelecanos is best known as a writer for The Wire; I will admit I’ve not watched the show in its entirety but I thought I will try one of his books.
Feb 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Do you remember getting letters in the mail? Handwritten letters, words like precious gems, filling up sheets of paper with thoughts from friends, family, pen-pals. Do you remember the joy you had anticipating their arrival as well as the comfort you got in reading them? A new George Pelecanos novel is like getting a letter from a loved one and for me, his books are comfort food for the eyes and the imagination.

What It Was is the fifth novel in the Derek Strange/Terry Quinn series. This time Pel
"Once upon a the Summer of 1972..."

This is the perfect bedtime story for those of us who like detectives, street hoodlums, and soul music. Pelecanos (whose writing I've enjoyed and admired for many years) is at the height of his powers as he gives us a fable of a brief murder spree by the outlaw Red "Fury" Jones.

The book features a 30-years-younger version of Pelecanos' PI character, Derek Strange, as he is just getting his agency off the ground. He is on a routine case...the hunt for
Feb 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
It is 1972. Red "Fury" Jones is cutting a swath of death through D.C., seemingly unconcerned about what will happen to him. Police detective Vaughan and private detective Strange end up working together to try to find and stop Red. The author excels in capturing the cars, styles and music of the era. Immensely fun. ...more
Larry Bassett
Nov 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime
I have had this book on my shelf for nine months. Although most of my books are bought used, this one I got from Barnes & Noble new immediately when it was published because George Pelecanos has been one of my favorite authors for nearly fifteen years and I wanted to be able to read this book right away. It sat on my shelf unread because shortly after I bought it, Pelecanos slipped in my estimation. I have read every one of his books but all of a sudden I began to experience him as a three rathe ...more
Nigel Bird
Jul 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Given that George Pelecanos has been one of my long-time favourite authors, it came as quite a surprise to me to realise that I haven’t read anything by him for a couple of years. I have no doubt that this has something to do with my patterns of reading since I bought my kindle. I suspect I’ve become used to being attracted to cheaper options. ‘What It Was’ came as a great reminder that some things are just worth paying a little extra for.

Even the author’s note was interesting, a brief explanati
Jul 25, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
The fifth Derek Strange novel. In this, he relates a tale from 1972, when the 1968 riots were still fresh in everyone’s minds. Strange, just starting out in his PI business, is hired to find a stolen ring. This puts him on the trail of a notorious killer known as “Red Fury” Jones and his madam girlfriend. Strange works alongside a tenacious white detective, Vaughn (a relic of the old days of cop work, but hiding a heart of gold under that un-PC exterior), to track down Jones as he grows ever bol ...more
Adele Symonds
Mar 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
This novels 2 central characters – Vaughn and Strange are fairly well written but the characterisation of the minor characters could have been better. The plot was difficult to follow because I was being distracted from it by all the long, rambling descriptions.
There were too many descriptions of cars and too much general description, it felt like it was there to fill out the book rather than to build the characters. I prefer descriptions of characters to be a little more subtle than just readin
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
from the Outro
"You know what happened to Frank Wills, that young security guard who foiled the Watergate burglary?"
"He died penniless, in a house with no electricity or running water. But then he done a year's time for shoplifting an ink pen. And all those reporters who got famous, all those politicians who made their names on the scandal , all those motherfukers who were doing the dirt, with their million-dollar book deals and radio shows..."

A Crime Novel that's was pretty damn good, I'll
Jan 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people who lived in DC in the 70s
No suprises here. If you like Pelecanos you'll like this. Steeped in 1970s urban culture, the plot revolves around Red “Fury” Jones, a fearless crazed criminal on a murder spree who is being tracked down by ex-cop Derek Strange and current cop Frank Vaughn. It reads like the plot for a Blackploitation movie and, as I've found with other Pelecanos' books, the 70s-era phrasings and descriptions of cars, music, and clothes can be a bit repetitive and awkward. I wished there was more plot and less s ...more
Lacks the depth and electricity of his other works. There is little social critique, what is there feels rehashed and thrown in. What makes Derek Strange so compelling as a character is almost completely lacking in this text. This felt like a dashed off popcorn read and that is disappointing in comparison to his other books in the Strange series. It's fun and consumable, but not much more than that. ...more
Brian R
Feb 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-ebook, 2012
I only gave this 4/5, I found some of the deductions and "inklings" made by several of the characters to be a stretch, but I really liked this story, I love the Derek Strange character, and I'll eventually get through every Pelecanos book. ...more
Douglas Lord
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Derek Strange, a private dick in 1972 Washington, D.C, is chasing bad guy Red Fury, who’s making the move from mere lowlife to local drug-dealing kingpin. Does that sound good to you? Then trust me, go forth and read it. Thing is, I get fined by the book reviewers union if I squander the 200-word allotment, so: Pelicanos makes old-school fun with a propulsive plot featuring multiple teams‚ the cops, the mafia, even some hookers‚ all, for various reasons, chasing Fury. With no master plan, Red is ...more
Mar 19, 2019 rated it liked it
What It Was, my first foray with the Derek Strange series, was a nostalgic read. Seems the author and I grew up in the same time period and 1972, where the bulk of this story takes place, is a sweet spot for cars and tunes. Aside from the trip down memory lane, Pelecanos has rendered a pretty neat action novel.

Derek Strange is a fairly basic character, an ex-DC cop who has gone the PI route. But his former partner, an aging detective called Frank “Hound Dog” Vaughn, is a different story. This i
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Strange says "Let's go, Greek. The clock ticks."
"What's your hurry? said Stefanos.
Strange squinted against the dying light. "We've got a case."
Richard Knight
Aug 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fine book that I hope isn't the final Derek Strange novel. The story concerns Red Fury, a character alluded to in The Night Gardener. The story is told in flashback and it's a worthy one, but it isn't fitting as a swan song to the character. Overall, a good book, but it feels like kind of an afterthought, to be honest. ...more
Craig Pittman
Feb 26, 2012 rated it liked it
I'm a big fan of George Pelecanos, and really looked forward to reading this one because he's so meticulous about recreating various eras in D.C. and because it marked a reappearance of his private eye character Derek Strange. That said, it was a little bit of a letdown. Although Strange is a player in the story, he's not the main focus. Instead that role goes to a weaker character, a white homicide cop named "Hound Dog" Vaughn. And while the villain, "Red" Fury, is interesting to watch as he wr ...more
Jan 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
I have to say first off that this sort of book really isn't my thing. I just thought that should be clear before I start talking. I mean, it had some good writing and a good story. It was well done, but I'm just not into the detective and/or action genre. I just didn't see it as much more than that, though well done for that sort of thing. It was kind of like a jive version of "The Rockford Files." There was a quote on the back from Yardley of the "Washington Post" that said "Pelecanos's novels ...more
Oct 31, 2012 rated it liked it
The strong points are setting and time. The characters aren't much and aren't different from one another. They can read each other thoughts half the time. The plot is borderline nothing. Based on this and his last book, The Cut, I'm pretty down on the author now. Cool setting, no doubt, but it's not enough. At least it was short and didn't try to extend it any further. I plan to check out all the songs and cars mentioned. ...more
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George Pelecanos was born in Washington, D.C., in 1957. He worked as a line cook, dishwasher, bartender, and woman's shoe salesman before publishing his first novel in 1992.

Pelecanos is the author of eighteen novels set in and around Washington, D.C.: A Firing Offense, Nick's Trip, Shoedog, Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go, The Big Blowdown, King Suckerman, The Sweet Forever, Shame the Devi

Other books in the series

Derek Strange & Terry Quinn (5 books)
  • Right as Rain (Derek Strange and Terry Quinn #1)
  • Hell to Pay
  • Soul Circus (Derek Strange and Terry Quinn, #3)
  • Hard Revolution

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