Book: Hard Revolution

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Hard Revolution: A Novel

Author: George P. Pelecanos
Publisher: Little, Brown

Derek Strange is a rookie cop, the job he’s dreamed of since he was a boy. His brother, Dennis, has not been as fortunate; home from the service with a disability pension and zero prospects, he is a man with good intentions but bad habits. Derek has always looked out for Dennis, but no amount of brotherly love can save him from the dangerous world of Alvin Jones, a local bottom-feeder, hustler, and stone killer who draws him into his web of violence.

While the rookie cop navigates the rocky terrain of a city in turmoil, a family in crisis, and his love for a woman he has driven away, Frank Vaughn, a cop at the opposite end of his career, investigates the vicious hit-and-run of a young black man. Vaughn’s personal life is a shambles, but he’s good police; he pursues the killers with sharklike intent. Meanwhile, in Memphis, a prophet is murdered, igniting a volcanic chain of events that will leave the nation’s capital burned, divided, and decimated, forever changing the lives of its working-class inhabitants.


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George Pelecanos takes a step back in time to give us a prequel to his bestselling and highly admired Derek Strange P.I. series (Soul Circus, Hell to Pay, Right as Rain), allowing a greater insight into the development of Strange’s tough-guy, justice-at-any-cost character.

In 1968, weeks before the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and at the height of the battle for civil rights, Strange is a young black cop new to the police force and partnered with an older white man. By contrast, his brother Dennis is getting deeper into crime as he and some acquaintances plan to knock over a convenience store. Strange’s personal issues and family matters take a backseat to the explosive times, as Washington’s inner city erupts in riots following Kings’ murder.

Pelecanos’s vivid, astute, and meaningful narrative makes Hard Revolution an accomplished study of a culture tearing itself to pieces in the face of major social change. The conflicts of the world at large are perfectly represented in the protagonist, as Strange is forced to fight against his brother, neighbors who condemn him for serving the white power structure, and, ultimately himself. It’s a true testament to Pelecanos’s skill that no single plot element or story thread—including the senseless murder of a black man by a drunken trio of white bank robbers—outweighs the others. He uses his adept noir sensibility to further define personal tragedy and its greater symbolic meaning.

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