The Martini Shot: A Novella and Stories

The Martini Shot: A Novella and Stories - George Pelecanos Pelecanos is undeniably one of my favorite authors, so of course I had to jump headfirst into this newly-released collection of his short fiction, although I was already familiar with some of the stories. Fellow fans of the author will find many of his usual strengths on display here: his knack for creating flawed but sympathetic characters, his way with dialogue, and the potent atmosphere that he's able to convey in his urban D.C. environments.

One of the best examples of this is the first story in the collection, and possibly one of Pelecanos's best pieces, "The Confidential Informant." It's about an aging nobody who still lives with his parents, and becomes a CI for a local detective. It's a tale filled with an air of sadness, as the main character is still desperate for his parent's approval and he believes that he's finally found his calling as a snitch. Another story that's just as good, "String Music," follows a teen streetball player, who struggles to find a balance between being tough and being smart on the street. It was also refreshing reading "String Music" during the current atmosphere in the U.S. between the public and police officers. The character of Sergeant Peters is everything that a good cop should be. He's in touch with the community that he polices and has a relationship with people there. So instead of seeing the neighborhood as a place to flex his power and bust heads, he sees it as a place to protect. So kudos to Pelecanos for writing a cop character that can stand as an example for the real ones. These two stories feature some of the best writing that he has done.

One of the things that's always struck me about Pelecanos is the fact that he's probably the only non-black novelist who has a talent for constantly writing complex, honest, and fully realized black characters from the inner city. This can be credited not only to the fact that he's lived all of his life in "Chocolate City," but to what seems to be an acute sensitivity to the people and world around him. It's something I've noticed in all of his work. He can be described the same way the social worker in the short story "Chosen" describes Van and Eleni Lucas (Spero Lucas's adopted parents), who adopt two African-American boys: he never feels over-earnest, or trying too hard to be multicultural. His work feels genuine, unlike someone like Quentin Tarantino, who always seems to be trying too hard.

Most of the stories are solid, with the title novella being the weak link. The story is filled with tons of unnecessary detail about the inner workings of a movie set, to the point where most readers would lose interest. I got a kick out of it because I work in that industry and it was fun to see it written very accurately, but it did make the story much longer than it needed to be. At first, I couldn't understand the main character's motivations for looking into the death of another crew member, but by the end, his motivations are revealed and they're pretty interesting. The ending was satisfying, but the novella would have made a better short story.

I wouldn't recommend readers new to Pelecanos to start here, but it's a great, necessary addition to his work and would definitely recommend it to fans.

"I took the ball and dribbled it up. I knew what I was gonna do, knew exactly where I was gonna go with it, knew wasn't nobody out there could stop me. I wasn't thinkin about Wallace or the stoop of my mom's shoulders or which nigga was gonna be lookin to fuck my baby sister, and I wasn't thinkin on no job or college test or my future or nothin like that.
I was concentratin on droppin that pill through the hole. Watching myself doin it before I did. Out here in the sunshine, every dark thing far away. Runnin ball like I do."