'The way home' by George Pelecanos

Book review: Sack of cash becomes a mixed bag in Pelecanos' world

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Young Chris Flynn was a rebel without a cause who ended up getting more attention than he wanted in a juvenile prison facility. How he got there and, perhaps, why occupy the first part of George Pelecanos' newest crime novel.

Pelecanos actually contrasts two crimes. One is adolescent Flynn's early brush with the law. The other, in the second part of the novel, might be called "The Maltese Gym Bag," since Chris and his friend and fellow worker discover a bag full of cash. What happens after that is a test of Chris' maturity and constitutes the mystery and action we normally expect in Pelecanos' fiction.

"The way home"

By George Pelecanos
Little, Brown ($24.99)

George Pelecanos and fellow Little, Brown author Michael Connelly visit Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont today at 4 p.m. to sign their new novels. The store is at 514 Allegheny River Blvd.; 412-828-4877.

The book is definitely a hybrid, the fusion of a coming-of-age novel and a whodunit. The real drama is in the early struggle between Chris and his father, Thomas Flynn, a tough ex-cop and demanding businessman. Chris is never good enough for his father and his loving but weak mother Amanda can't heal the breach between the two. They remain cool and uncommunicative, ready for disaster.

Chris uses marijuana, blows off school and finally gets into big-time trouble with the law. He drives recklessly, causes an accident, leaves the scene and briefly evades police pursuit. When he is caught, he resists arrest.

Prison and the good friends he makes there force Chris to look at himself and emotionally grow up. This is not because the prison system works but because Chris is thoughtful and lucky.

Visits to a psychotherapist help Thomas to become a bit kinder and a more helpful father.

Playing a minor role in this tale of reconciliation and maturity is the love and understanding of good friends and good women.

Lovers of suspense and mystery may find the other part of the story a bit obvious. First, there is Chris' temptation to take the money since the current owner of the building where he found it knows nothing about the cash. Chris and his friend leave the bag where they found it, but someone takes the cash anyway.

Whodunit and why and what happens as a result make for some good suspenseful writing. One expects that from Pelecanos.

But the return to the elements of a generic plot, with stereotyped good guys and bad guys and a clean solution, takes a bit of the mystery out of the mystery. Chris' growth and his relations with his parents, friends and lovers are more interesting than the action that follows.

Then, too, the story is just shy of openly didactic:

You can go home again, Pelecanos suggests, but you'll have to take the long, hard way. It's the perfect gift for a high school graduate!

Michael Helfand teaches English at the University of Pittsburgh.


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