Sometimes I think George Pelecanos is at his best in stand-alone novels, when he’s forced to go just a little bit deeper into his characters right away, rather than allowing their personalities to build gradually through a series. Drama City does that, and does it well, because it’s a taut little thriller, compactly plotted, and that allows the characters a little more space to develop. There is no one better at portraying the working world, both the problems and the rewards of the nine to five, which is often such a non-factor in ostensibly gritty street dramas. His criminals may sometimes have hearts of gold, or at least gold plate, but I also think he can be allowed a little leeway there, because it’s one thing to demonise the entire gang world and another to realise that it grows from the same real streets the civilians inhabit. So the personalities of Lorenzo Brown, ex-con turned dog warden, and his parole officer Rachel Lopez, are reflected not only in their own successes and failures as they struggle through their worlds, but also in the worlds of the characters they work with, and that gives this book the kind of depth which is lacking in so much ‘urban’ crime drama these days. When the drama gets serious, and the young bloods explode in real violence, all that struggle becomes more real, because it could all wind up being for nothing. It’s also good to see Pelecanos toning down the play lists, and letting music reflect the characters, their knowledge and their actions, rather than having the funky tail walking the dog. This is a very fine writer at his lean best, pared down and real, and all the more satisfying for that.