Shoedog by George Pelecanos

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Shoedog by George Pelecanos

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Gritty, violent pulp fiction about a loner-drifter who gets involved in a liquor store heist that doesn’t go according to plan from one of the writing team of TV hit, The Wire.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: May 2010
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 978-1846687365

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If you ever find yourself as a character in a work of fiction, it’s probably best to avoid hitchhikers. The chances are it’s going to turn out very badly for either the driver or the hitchhiker - or both. Constantine is a denim-clad, Marlboro-smoking, drifter and loner with a strong sense of right and wrong who has just returned from a period of travelling around the world and is heading south back home in the US when he is picked up by a man named Polk, driving a muscle car. So what could possibly go wrong?

George Pelecanos has a very good reputation as a crime writer, strengthened recently by his role as one of the writing team on the critically lauded TV hit The Wire. Shoedog is one of his earlier works, first published in 1994 and now re-released as part of Serpent’s Tail’s Classics series, together with a new introduction by Mark Lawson and a new afterword by Pelecanos himself.

Certainly it has all the essential ingredients of a classic piece of US crime writing. It’s gritty and violent and is set in a world of fast cars, seedy bars and loser-criminals. When Polk tells Constantine that he has to make a short stop in Washington DC, coincidentally where Constantine was brought up, it’s no surprise to find that the two become involved in a planned liquor store heist. The criminal gang seem to be more willing than I might have thought to bring the stranger, Constantine, into their confidence giving him a role as one of the two drivers, along with the eponymous Shoedog, a shoe shop salesman named Randolph, with whom Constantine also bonds quickly. For obvious reasons, I don’t want to say much more about the plot, but suffice to say that things don’t always go as planned.

While Constantine’s character has both depth and back story, the rest of the players in this story are much less vividly drawn and, apart from the entertaining Shoedog, are pretty cliche stereotypes. But this isn’t about characterisation, it’s about plot and action. And Pelecanos is adept at developing the style of the book as the story gains pace towards its conclusion. As you might expect from a writer that was to become involved with The Wire, he is particularly attuned to authentic dialogue of the streets. He also gives constant references to the soul funk music that is played in the various bars and cars along the way.

It’s not the most original of plots, but it’s well written and paced and there are some nice twists along the way. As an example of ‘pulp fiction’, then it’s certainly a very good one, although I’m not sure that it stands out enough to be called a Classic of its type. But it’s the journey rather than the plot destination that makes this an entertaining read.

Our thanks to the good folk at Serpent’s Tail for inviting The Bookbag to review Shoedog.

For more crime fiction, then Killer by Dave Zeltserman is highly recommended, as is Acts of Violence by Ryan David Jahn which is a highly original story inspired by a true event.

Buy Shoedog by George Pelecanos at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Shoedog by George Pelecanos at

Buy Shoedog by George Pelecanos at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Shoedog by George Pelecanos at


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