It’s the summer of 1972 in the rough neighbourhood of Washington DC. Three white teenagers decide to drive through a traditional black neighbourhood dubbed ‘Heathrow Heights’ for want of anything else to do, to kick up a little dust. And this they manage to do up until a point. Only, this being a George Pelecanos novel, you know it is not going to end well!
So the three teenage friends Alex, Billy and Pete, driving a stolen car, cruise through this black neighbourhood high on an air of mischievousness. And such is the nature of these things they find the trouble they are looking for. They stand out for obvious reasons drawing the attention of three young black men in the distance. Tension gathers. They then drive up to the black men and racially abuse them, as well as hurling a cherry pie at them through the car window!
As you can imagine the incident does not go down too well with local men of Heathrow Heights!
And as such is the skill of the writer George Pelecanos, he throws us the reader something we would not expect. Alex, Billy and Pete drive off laughing believing they had got away with it UNTIL they come to a turnaround in the road, or in the UK we would refer to it as a dead-end…
Now then, as mentioned above this incident does not end well. Without spoiling it for you too much; there is a fatality and a maiming…
The Turnaround is an unusual novel. On the one hand it’s about racial tensions and let’s just say the less affluent aspects of American society. It also has a strong underworld/criminal element running through it. I lost count of amount of lowlife characters I would not want to have a run-in with!
Then on the other hand, it’s about the love the main character John Pappas has for his family especially his son Alex who now as a middle-aged man has to carry the burden of what took place that fateful summer. There is a thirty-five year time shift in the novel.
The Turnaround has a lot going on. It can almost be viewed as a kind of ‘coming of age’ novel, about the follies of youth that time and maturity gives you time to consider. With that time and maturity comes a greater wisdom and with it the quality of forgiveness and ultimately, redemption.
I never caught the hit TV series The Wire. Well, George Pelecanos is one of its co-writers and I have to say my first impression of The Turnaround was that it was penned by a professional writer, with plenty of experience. I thought the descriptions and mix of characters was excellent. I found the Washington DC location well depicted and suited the mood of the book. Overall I was very interested in the way the writer George Pelecanos effortlessly created a ‘slice of life’ such was the authenticity of his storytelling!
Give it a read, and let me know what you think.
Until next time