Review: The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos

9781409179733.jpgA new George Pelecanos crime novel is always something to celebrate, especially nowadays, when he’s veered into the land of television, writing and producing shows such as The Wire, Treme and The Deuce, so the release of his prose work is increasingly sporadic. The Man Who Came Uptown is a welcome return five years after his last novel, The Double, and three years since his collection of short stories, The Martini Shot. And while much of this story is classic crime noir — cops and PI’s moonlighting as criminals; ex-cons trying to live a straight life, enticed back into the same dark undercurrent they’re trying to escape  — it’s also about the redemptive and transformative power of books. Anyone thinking that sounds too sanctimonious, or that Pelecanos has gone soft — stop. This is as gritty as everything that’s come before. The violence on the page is brutal, and you’ll be lost in the haze of the characters’ amorality. The Man Who Came Uptown is crime writing of the highest order — a taut page-turner with a stunning climax, and far greater depth than your average whodunit or potboiler.

The lives of three characters are entangled in The Man Who Came Uptown. Phil Ornazian is a middle-aged private investigator in D.C. who makes the bulk of his money stealing from criminals. He rationalises this by considering it ‘vigilante justice,’ — these’re bad people’s money, after all — and imperative for the financial security of his young family. He operates with a guy named Thaddeus Ward, an ex-cop turned bail-bondsman, who packs quite the armoury. But some jobs require a third person — a driver — and Oranizan knows just the dude to assist their next hit: the titular ‘man who came uptown,’ Michael Hudson. In street parlance, ‘going uptown’ means getting out of jail, and the only reason Michael got his freedom is because of Oranzaian, who banked the favour for the right time. Which is now.

Thing is, Michael is keen to avoid repeating past mistakes. He’s got a steady job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant not much, but it’s a start, something to build from   and he wants to make good on his promise to stay straight. In prison — thanks to its mobile librarian, Anna, who is the book’s third central character — Michael discovered the joy of reading, and the ability to escape his cell through the power of the written word. The first thing he purchased out of prison was a bookcase, and he’s determined to fill it. And Anna’s periodic reappearances in his life reaffirm his desire to remain on the side of the angels. But Ornazian has the power to send Michael’s life spiralling, and doing this one job might get him off his back. Or it might lead to more illicit work. And straight back to prison.

The Man Who Came Uptown is a book about survival; how life sometimes forces you into a corner, and individual fortitude and morality often determines how far you’ll go to get out of it. Sometimes karma catches you; sometimes it doesn’t. Live a good life and bad things can still happen; the opposite is also true. One thing is certain: you’ll race through Pelecanos’ latest to learn the fates of his characters.

ISBN: 9781409179733
Format: Paperback / softback (236mm x 179mm x 20mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 6-Sep-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom