Crime Stories: George Pelecanos

george550cDon’t be afraid of the raised lettering on the book jacket; a well-written crime-fiction novel deserves to be treated as high art. MAGNET’s Andrew Earles surveys the modern landscape of hard-boiled detective stories and tales of noir-colored underworlds.

For the last eight years, I’ve obsessed over crime fiction. My crusade to defend the genre as an important art form is certainly not a unique one; plenty have made it their cause to elevate good-to-great crime fiction beyond the mass-market, grocery-store/duty-free-shop stigma. My enthusiasm can be traced back to George Pelecanos. Are Pelecanos’ contributions to crime fiction a perfect place to start for the uninitiated? They were for me, but as this column continues, I’ll focus on other contemporary writers, too.

Disclaimer #1: There will be no mention of Pelecanos’ producing/writing involvement with acclaimed HBO series The Wire. Yes, it is hands-down my favorite piece of art to be recorded by a camera, and when it joined forces in 2002 with one of my favorite writers, the world temporarily made sense. An enlightened look at that part of Pelecanos’ career is the daunting job of other writers. (Pelecanos is currently working with The Wire creator David Simon on another HBO series, Treme, which is set amid the music community of post-Katrina New Orleans.)

Disclaimer #2: I have a social litmus test that generates unwavering distrust for people who dismiss Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Neil Hamburger, Thin Lizzy, The Wire, N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, SST-era Dinosaur Jr, Prince, the Feelies’ Crazy Rhythms, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk and the published works of Pete Dexter, Charles Willeford and George Pelecanos.

Coming tomorrow: An overview of Pelecanos’ D.C. Quartet (The Big Blowdown, King Suckerman, The Sweet Forever and Shame The Devil).

Earlier today, Pelecanos made MAGNET a mix tape; check it out here.

In 2001, Pelecanos interviewed ex-Dream Syndicate frontman Steve Wynn for us; read it here. They got along so well that four years later, they wrote a song together (“Cindy It Was Always You,” from Wynn’s …tick…tick…tick) and also performed once in a live setting, with Wynn providing instrumental backing to Pelecanos reading from 2006’s The Night Gardener. (Download “The Night Gardener”)