Read by Dan Woren
Length: 7 Hrs 10 Min
Genre: Crime Fiction
Quick Thoughts: Shoedog is a solid caper novel, full of unique characters, a realistic set up, and a few nice twists along the way. The ending comes fast and quick, with a touch of a surprise moment that leaves you feeling just a bit disconcerted. While not completely satisfying or as brilliant as his latter novels, Shoedog is a worthy tale that offers plenty of entertainment.
George Pelecanos is an author I have experienced almost entirely in audio. This is a good thing, since I think his specific style of writing translates very well to audio. Some of my all time favorite performances, Richard Allen’s reading of the first three Derek Strange novels, Lance Reddick reading Hard Revolution, Dion Graham reading The Way Home and The Cut, are narrators reading Pelecanos words. Yet, sadly, most of Pelecanos early novels, including his Nick Stefanos novels and the DC Quartet were never produced in audio when they were released. Now, I actually own paperback copies of most of these novels, but besides A Firing Offense I never read them. I picked them up, cracked them open, started reading the novels, then imagined just how good they would sound read by Dion Graham or JD Jackson. This belief kept me from diving further in, in the hopes that one day they would be released in audio. Luckily, it seems my desire, at least with some of the early books, have come true.
Now, a bit of a secret. I never found Pelecanos’ plots all that special. Sure, they were complicated cat and mouse games, often involving regular people getting mixed up in a crime would they aren’t prepared for. These are very noirish tales, rarely resulting in happy endings. The stories are strong, but I wouldn’t put his plotting over authors like Dennis Lehane or Laurence Block. For me, when it comes to Pelecanos, it’s all about his dialogue. Pelecanos characters speak with pop culture infused rhythms of the street. Their words manage to be both pedestrian and musical in wonderful ways. One of the major problems I have with stylistic dialogue is it never seems realistic, but somehow Pelecanos picks up the odd patois of the streets, making his characters rhythm and flow feel absolutely authentic.
This is why I was very interested in Shoedoe, one of Pelecanos first novels, and his first standalone. In Shoedog, Constantine, a retired soldier with a bit of a temper and a heavy case of wanderlust, is picked up hitchhiking outside his hometown, Washington DC, by Polk, an aging stickup man who gets him mixed up in a score set up by a local criminal facilitator who owes Polk money. Constantine, wary of the job, finds himself pulled into the world by the facilitator’s beautiful girlfriend. Together with Randolph, a women’s shoe salesman who is blackmailed into participating and a few other lowlifes, they attempt to pull off a couple of complicated Liquor store robberies, made even more tricky by double crosses and bad intentions.
I had mixed feelings about Shoedog. Much of Pelecanos style and characterizations were there, but in a raw, unpolished form. Constantine came off to me as an impulsive, unbalanced hipster version of Jack Reacher, without the morality or intelligence. He was controlled by “The Beat” a sort of impulse control fault that would snap leading him to intense moments of violence. Here is where Pelecanos stylist writing comes into play, yet it isn’t as effective as it is in his later novels. The story itself was pretty solid, if you take away the pointless romantic entanglement between Constantine and the facilitator’s girlfriend. The story, set up and twists were reminiscent of 70’s caper films, full of telegraphed double crossed that actually ended up offering their own little surprises along the way.
In the end, I like what Pelecanos did, even if some of the things along the way didin’t work for me. While much about what I love of his writing wasn’t there, or appeared in an unpolished form, and some of the things I don’t like about his tales reared their ugly head, Shoedog is a solid caper novel, full of unique characters, a realistic set up, and a few nice twists along the way. The ending comes fast and quick, with a touch of a surprise moment that leaves you feeling just a bit disconcerted. While not completely satisfying, or as brilliant as his latter novels, Shoedog is a worthy tale that offers plenty of entertainment.
I have incredibly high standards when it comes to narrators of George Pelecanos’ work. With some of the all time greats having recorded his work, along with some wonderful performances by actors from one of my all time favorite TV shows The Wire. The thing about these performances is you can just feel these narrators grooving on Pelecanos’ words. Listening to them read his work, you knew that they felt it was just as special to them as it was to you. I only got rare moments of this in Dan Woren’s reading. That’s not to say it was bad, but his reading of Shoedog was more of a reading than a performance. Part of this you can chalk up to the rawer, less stylistic prose and dialogue of this early example of Pelecanos work. There were moments when you could feel Worren get into it, particularly in some of the side stories, and during the liquor store robberies when thing really began to move. Where Woren shines is in the action, the fast moving plot came alive when he read it. Yet, in the slower, dialogue heavy scenes, I didn’t feel it as much. Shoedog is a must for fans of Pelecanos like me, who want to experience all his written words aurally but if you are new to Pelecanos, go check out his Derek Strange/Terry Quinn series firsts. I’m sure you will be back.
Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review