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Drama City by George Pelecanos

Drama City (2005)

by George Pelecanos

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Lorenzo Brown is an ex-convict who is determined to lead a normal, morally righteous life. He is employed as a Humane Society officer for the city, determined to protect abused animals and bring some sort of justice to those that cannot defend themselves. Throughout all this, he has to stop himself from getting involved with the old street life.

At work he is employed alongside Mark, who is a humorous and supportive character. The trials he goes through as a Humane Officer are intriguing and depressing in a realistic way.

His parole officer, Rachel Lopez, is one of the good ones, believing that some people really can transform their lives for the better. But while during the day she has her head on her shoulders, at night is a much different story.

Drama City takes the reader through the daily lives of both of these main characters, creating an interesting story that is believable and realistic. When something tragic happens that could cause Lorenzo to undo his oath that says he should stay on the good side of things, will he be able to resist the temptation? What is the right thing for him to do after all?

George Pelecanos' story is one of hope, inspiration and survival. His style is easy to digest, his point comes across clearly without sounding preachy and his characters are strong.

On the negative side, the novel could have used some tightening in pace and tension, with more flavor added to Lorenzo's life (present and past). Overall, though, it's an enjoyable read that is thought-provoking, emotionally gripping and well-written.

( )
  ErinPaperbackstash | Jun 14, 2016 |
Murder and gang wars in Washington, D.C., including some who make it and some who don't. Helps with understanding of how people get caught up in these activities by looking at long time relationships of people who go to grade school together, then either prison, job or college. Warning: Some coverage of dog fighting. ( )
  mkboylan | Jan 18, 2014 |
Wow! This is his best so far and probably the closest in sensibility to The Wire. Yet there are no cops in it. Well, a few glimpses of them but they're not the protagonists. The POVs most of the time belong to 1) Lorenzo, still on parole, working diligently for a pet rescue organization and pretty close to never going back to prison, and to 2) Rachel Lopez, his parole officer, who is privately struggling with an alcohol and possible sex addiction. Female POV is not George's strong point, which is why I give this 4 stars.

Otherwise, this is pretty damn good, better than a mere airport time killer. I'd emphasize that this isn't a police procedural or a mystery; the murders of and by drug dealers unfold before us. The second shoot-out was so well done; I was figuratively on the edge of my seat!

I spotted private eye Derek Strange once but he never appears by name. Although of course it takes place in DC, Drama City reminds me of The Wire because of the fullness of most of the bad guys' characters: They could have gone another way. Because of their broken homes, parents in jail, the temptations and material attractions, they didn't.

As in his other books, Pelecanos frequently rounds back to the turning point age for boys: that's high school, especially early high school. Maybe there was an attraction to sports, a book, a career: these boys could have gone another way or they still can but ... the odds are not so great. At near the last moment, Pelecanos even sketches how the most unredeemable character, Rico. turned so bad. He was constantly abused by his mother as a child.

Pelecanos isn't the profound pessimist that The Wire's producer and sometime writer David Simon is. OK, I haven't seen the entire TV series by a long shot but from what I've seen and heard, when you start feeling for a particular young character on the TV show, chances are good he or she will be killed or off to jail for a very long spell.

Not only Pelecanos but even some of his characters (Lorenzo and perhaps even his old drug lord buddy Nigel) see glimmers of hope and possibility. The high-school drop-out girl knocked up by her no-good boyfriend--with the help of her mother or grandmother--might go back to school, even college, and raise a good kid.

Moreover, we're seeing the world of the ex-cons in this book. Some, like Lorenzo, have vowed never to go back. You might say that prison has worked for them. Lorenzo and some of his cohorts at Narcotics Anonymous are moving to a place where they might be able to help a kid go the right way or help another ex-con. I would like to know more about those who, still "on paper", intentionally "violate" so they can go back in the can; they feel they aren't ready to do the straight world yet, so better to go back in before they do something far worse.

This book answered a question I've long wondered about: who would knowingly hire an ex-con? Well, ex-cons themselves are apparently big employers. Construction work and hairdressers, maybe restaurants and mechanics. As for the work of dogcatchers, animal rescue and pet shelters ... I never thought much about it before but I learned something. Good research, George. Of course, some dogs are like some people: because of what's been done to them, they're unredeemable and have to be put down. But the author doesn't hit you over the head with the parallels. ( )
1 vote Periodista | Jun 9, 2011 |
The author writes about the parts of D.C. that no tourist buses ever visit: the ghettos in which the drug trade is the only path to advancement. Everyone who participates knows its an ephemeral life: sooner or later you go to prison or you die. Yet, its street cred, its riches, its macho violence seems to be as addictive as the drugs being sold. Occasionally, however, someone breaks away and rejoins the parallel universe most of us inhabit. This is the story of one of those men, and the people who help him, tempt him, threaten him, uplift him. The dialogue rings incredibly true, a fly on the wall experience. This one will stay with you. ( )
  neddludd | Apr 11, 2011 |
Wow, a quick read, barely over 3 hours. Almost put it down at the start as it had very tough material, animal cruelty, dog fighting in particular. However sticking with it wasn't so bad. Pelecanos used it just enough to make the point needed without it being gratuitous. It was a riveting storyline that kept me rooting for the good guy to hang in there and though things didn't turn out perfectly for all, it did have a whew, that's good ending. ( )
  debavp | Jan 16, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Pelecanos here tackles a subject that raises legitimate concerns throughout the United States. However, other writers -- and filmmakers, too -- have so thoroughly mined the inner-city drug trade that the possibility of producing new ore is unlikely. "Drama City" certainly fails to do so.
There is a fierce inevitability to the way George Pelecanos's new book unfolds. ''Drama City'' is unleashed, not simply set in motion. In the tough, imperiled parts of Washington, where his earlier books have been set, Mr. Pelecanos puts the forces of good and evil on a collision course, igniting the kind of suspense that hinges on heartbreak.
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Lorenzo Brown opened his eyes.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0446611441, Mass Market Paperback)

The real test of an author's skill is sometimes to be found not in an unusually conceived work, but in his or her ability to create a consuming tale out of what, in outline form, might sound like an all-too-familiar or mundane plot line. In another novelist's hands, for instance, Drama City might have been a perfectly serviceable but regrettably unmemorable story of redemption and revenge set in the grittier districts of Washington, D.C. But with George Pelecanos at the reins, it becomes a poignant, profound yarn about men--the good, the bad, and the still undecided--trying to find their footing amid the centrifugal forces at play in a modern inner city.

Pelecanos's first standalone after four consecutive novels starring private eye Derek Strange (including Soul Circus and Hard Revolution), Drama City introduces Lorenzo Brown, a young, black onetime criminal enforcer who's recently returned to the streets after doing eight years in prison on a felony drug charge. Crime and criminals had always been fundamental to Lorenzo's existence. ("Y'all know how that is. I ran with some boys, one in particular, and when those boys and my main boy went down to the corner I went with 'em. They were my people, the closest thing I ever had to male kin.") Since his release, though, he's been serving as a Humane Law Enforcement Officer with the Humane Society, protecting animals from the panoply of domestic cruelty, trying to leave both the drugs and the thugs behind. This attitude has won him a few champions, notably Rachel Lopez, his striking half-Jewish, half-Latina probation officer and friend, who spends her days "telling other people that they need to stay on track," but then goes off the rails at night, haunting hotel bars, picking up inappropriate guys, always frightened by the idea of a relationship "where she was not in complete control." Of course, these delicate balances of individual behavior are only possible in the absence of the unexpected. When a seemingly inconsequential mistake incites a lethal turf battle between rival gang bosses Nigel Johnson and Deacon Taylor, and Rachel is stabbed in the chest by a volatile, hopped-up gunman, Lorenzo finds his killer instincts returning to the fore. He must decide how far he's willing to go--and how much he's willing to lose--in order to exact retribution.

A simple plot on its face, yet given high stakes and a heroic edge by Pelecanos's portrayal of Brown as a man-in-progress struggling to secure his liberty from the past, helped along by his unexpectedly sympathetic former boss, childhood friend Nigel Johnson. Less satisfyingly rendered is Lopez, whose acrobatic swings to the wild side provide merely arousing diversions, without adequate character development. Bearing soul as well as teeth, Drama City gives off the air of a Greek tragedy. You know things are going to get bad before they turn worse, but Pelecanos keeps you riveted throughout. --J. Kingston Pierce

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:49 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Mystery. Hoping to start over after serving eight years in prison, Lorenzo Brown returns to the Washington, D.C., neighborhood of his youth to take a job as a Humane Society officer but finds challenges from a local drug boss and former acquaintances who would draw him back into his old world. 75,000 first printing.… (more)

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