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Shoedog    by George Pelecanos order for
by George Pelecanos
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Warner, 2004 (1994)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Constantine, product of a highly dysfunctional family, has led an aimless life, largely propelled by circumstance. After a stint in the Marine Corps, and time wandering New Zealand, Thailand and Europe, he's back in the United States. Constantine's date with destiny begins when he hitches a ride with small, 'puckish' Polk, whose 'eyes looked blue as the spring sky, his smile broad and genuine'. Polk offers a ride to Florida, with a brief stop along the way, to collect money owed him by wealthy Grimes.

It turns out that Grimes is a vicious old man who enjoys power over others through blackmail. He pulls their strings and they have no choice but to do his bidding. He demands Polk's involvement in simultaneous liquor store robberies. Constantine, drawn to crime by the adrenaline high of 'the Beat', volunteers as a driver. Pelecanos shows us a camaraderie amongst some of this group of petty criminals, and its converse as well. Constantine has a fling with the lovely young horsewoman, Delia, who lives with Grimes, and the others' knowledge of this is a ticking time bomb through the plot.

Shoedog is a unique Pelecanos character, an African American named Randolph, with a genius for selling shoes to women, and satisfying them in other ways as well. He works his magic at 'Mean Feet, D.C.'s premier shoe boutique' until interrupted by Grimes' orders to be one of the heist's drivers. The robberies play out, very badly for some of those involved. Shoedog's ultimately saved by his pride in his work, while Constantine's past drives him to make a fateful choice.

As always, George Pelecanos delivers masterful noir suspense with seedy, quirky characters, and a deep vein of psychology. Though I prefer some of his later novels, especially Hard Revolution, Shoedog is well worth your time, if you like your mysteries hard-boiled and on the dark side.

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