Ayo Onatade is an avid reader of crime and mystery fiction. She has been writing reviews, interviews and articles on the subject for the last 12 years; with an eclectic taste from historical to hardboiled, short stories and noir films
It is also not often that authors of such calibre published more than one book a year. However, Pelecanos has done so with What it Was. Set in 1972 - think Blaxploitation; life in the seventies and Watergate just on the horizon.
The Cut and What it Was should be read alongside each other to appreciate the intenseness of Pelecanos’s writing. The plot of What it Was focuses on Robert Lee “Red” Jones (aka Red “Fury” Jones) who spends the summer of 1972 in a vicious crimespree blatantly publicising his reputation in a red and white Plymouth Fury with his girlfriend’s name stamped on the license plates. Strange is looking for a stolen ring that he thinks Jones has, and his friend, the white detective Frank Vaughn, is seeking Jones for a murder, the murder of a local drug addict's, shot point-blank in his apartment. Strange and his former partner Frank Vaughn join forces together on the trail of a ruthless killer.
One of the things that always draws me to the novels of George Pelecanos is the fact that his subject is how regular people, black and white, endure in a world of hardship, crime and violence. For those of you (and that includes me) that care about the soul music, muscle cars and bizarre clothing of the early 1970s, Pelecanos evokes them in copious detail.
What is Was is of course and what we have come to expect from such a writer, Sharp, staccato storytelling, tightly plotted, packed with fascinating characters as well as being rich in atmosphere that you just have to finish it in one sitting. The book is also a fast and engaging read which complements Pelecanos’s style which is not only entertaining but rich with details of both time and place. Even the cool retro cover makes you want to read the book!
You don’t have to be a fan of the author to enjoy this book but if you are then all the better. Buckle up, turn on the music and go for a spin. It will be worth it. A classic in the making!