I could have picked any one of the dozen awesome books by George Pelecanos (literally there are a ton, check it out) to review. After a long debate, I went with the one book he has written that has stuck with me longer than any other. If you are unfamiliar with Pelecanos, he writes crime novels set in and around Washington DC. He has written a trilogy about one character, and a DC Quartet (obstensibly about the decline of Washington's urban landscape) that rivals the best of James Ellroy.
His books are not subtle in their social commentary, or themes, yet they get under your skin. Pelecanos books are in many ways the literary equivelant of a twelve round streetfight. When you come away from one of his stories it seems as if you have been dragged through it with his characters, it is a powerful experience that gets you jacked up while still feeling as if you've taken a hard right to the jaw.
The reason I chose The Sweet Forever is because it represents the best of Pelecanos (who also wrote a bunch of The Wire) writing. His characters are gritty, flawed and headed toward an unavoidable chasm of destruction - Pelecanos pretty much writes urban westerns. This book follows a bag of money stolen from a brutal crack dealer, and details the devestation the drug had on the streets of DC. It is not a pretty picture, and the conclusion is forgone the moment you open the book. However, Pelecanos is a very talented writer and his ultimate avoidance of the showdown you expect shows how far above petty re-used plots he is. Nothing is simple in one of his books and The Sweet Forever is no exception. This book however, has an added spector of death hovering over it the entire time. One of the "characters" (spoken of, but never directly in the story) is Len Bias. The hope and promise of his career is on of the minds of all the DC natives and the reader, knowing the tragic end to his short story, is left waiting for the inevitable gut punch. It is an intense and bleak world Pelecanos has created and we are all the better off for having read it.
This book, like the rest of his DC Quartet - and all his books, rightfully deserves its spot at the top of the crime fiction heap.