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Thursday, November 14, 2013

George Pelecanos

I got to see George Pelecanos at a Murder by the Book event a couple of weeks ago and it’s about time that I wrote about it.

Pelecanos is a hero of mine because he has writing and producing credits on the two best television series I know; those being The Wire and Tremé. Looking at his Wiki page, I see that he has written least twenty novels, which is happy news for me because that means that I’ve missed a few. His books are set in and around Washington D.C, featuring bartender/private investigator Nick Stefanos, black P.I. Derek Strange, owner of Strange Investigations, who wears a Leatherman tool, a Buck knife and a Maglight on his belt (his friends make cracks about this, calling him Batman,) and now his latest, Spero Lucas, an Iraq vet Marine-turned-investigator. Pelecanos is out on a book tour behind The Double, the second Spero Lucas novel, says a third book is on the way, and that he hopes to sell Spero to television.

He spoke of his latest collaboration with David Simon, The Deuce, a tale of mobbed-up Times Square in the bad old days before it got Disneyfied, that they are going to produce for HBO.

He said that HBO was kind to give them a third season contract for Tremé, even for just six episodes, because the ratings just weren’t there. They had planned to end the series with the post-Katrina Saints in the Super Bowl. He loved making the series, lived in the warehouse district and “walked everywhere;” he wants to live there now.

Pelecanos wasn’t seven feet tall, as I had imagined him. He was a trim, fifty-something guy, friendly and well-spoken. Asked about taking-up or retiring characters, he paid homage to the greats: ‘nobody can write twenty-seven good books with the same character, unless you’re John D. McDonald. And if you haven’t read him, you should.’ He added that James Lee Burke was still going strong with twenty Dave Robicheaux novels. And Burke, like Elmore Leonard, was a sweet guy and a real gentleman. (Oh, gosh; this guy has met James Lee Burke and Elmore Leonard both! Well, at least now I’ve met George Pelecanos.)

In the Q&A I got to comment that he was in Houston, and had lived in both D.C. and New Orleans, so was no stranger to humidity, so I found it interesting that so many of his characters drove big Detroit V-8 cars without air conditioning. He said that he liked American cars, owned Jeeps, and had just bought a “Bullitt” model Mustang, “a good car, and the same price as an Accord or a Camry.” He said that he had always been a MoPar guy, and “was no fan of air conditioning.” He grew up working in his father’s Greek diner, listening to the music his black co-workers tuned into on the radio; so his experience in race relations and bar-and-grill culture is come by honestly. He spoke wistfully of the days when pop hits on the radio could come from any of several genres, when ‘everybody played everything.’

I hung around through the book signing and he spoke to me again, the last guy there. I said that I could about tell which episodes of The Wire he wrote because he always touched on the local cuisine and name-checked his favorite restaurants. He confessed to being a foodie, and when I asked where they were feeding him dinner in Houston (hoping I might get to take him to Valhalla for a beer on our way to Pappadeaux,) he told me that he was staying at Hotel Zaza and was to have dinner at the restaurant there.

So I’m charged now. I’ve just re-read The Cut, and now my copy of The Double is in. Next I’ll likely take a break from my review of the works of Ed McBain and Dutch Leonard and read the Pelecanos novels that I’ve managed to miss. He’s not only a great writer, but ‘a sweet guy and a real gentleman.’


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