The Martini Shot: A Novella and Stories by George Pelecanos (Little, Brown, and Company, January 6, 2015) Let’s get this out of the way; you know who George Pelecanos is, right? Hard-boiled writer of novels like The Double and The Cut. You may have heard about a little show called The Wire too. THE WIRE, people. You call yourself a fan of crime fiction and haven’t seen that show? Walk away from the computer and make some changes—major life changes. Maybe go into exile.
There’s a lot to live up to when you’re dealing with a writer that has a rep like Pelecanos, and honestly, The Martini Shot lives up to that kind of hype—impressive enough when you’re dealing with a short story collection from someone who has proven himself in multiple channels.
While the quality here is high all around, the price of admission is worth it for four pieces in particular: “The Confidential Informant,” “String Music,” “The Dead Their Eyes Implore Us,” and the titular “The Martini Shot.”
Pelecanos provides varied settings for these pieces with “String Music”, a piece with a leap-frog POV that makes it sing, standing out as a favorite for me. The story of a young man just trying to live a normal life in an urban hellhole. This is dirty Americana, an almost slice-of-life kind of story that manages to provide a literary voice with actual weight and life experience. We see a man coming into his own in a place ready to chew him up and spit him out without pretension or navel-gazing. No, Pelecanos understands where he’s taking us and he more than understands that the stories of those growing up in the grime-covered places are more matter of fact than melodramatic rap fantasy. These are characters that act because they have to—there’s nothing more complicated at play. The irony there is that makes the story and characters rich in depth. Powerful.
“The Confidential Informant” and “The Dead Their Eyes Implore Us” capture that same, almost banal air of the American dream by way of the lower class man. Both provide us protagonists that understand exactly who they are and exactly what they want. They don’t delude themselves into wanting the brass ring, they just want comfort—a simple happiness. That desire makes both stories equally tragic and touching. How often can we say that about crime fiction?
The Martini Shot provides a very different narrative. Almost meta in its approach, Pelecanos crafts a show-business insider story that proves the credo ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ when a TV insider on a police procedural finds himself in the middle of a real-life situation that proves to be a better story than anything he’s creating. My favorite bit in the story being the main character’s habit of picking up lingo from this real-world—and extremely dangerous—situation to apply to his writing. It’s true to life and as a writer, entertained me. I’ve been guilty of doing the exact same thing—as I’m sure 99.9% of crime writers have been.
While I recommend Pelecanos’ novels as a start to those unfamiliar with his work, if you’re a fan, definitely pick up The Martini Shot. These are incredibly solid stories. It’s a joy to read crime fiction of this caliber.