Crime: The Wire duo produce American crime writing at its finest

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The Independent Culture

Q: Which TV series has probably garnered more column inches in the press recently than the number of viewers who have found it up in the dark corners of their satellite box? A: The Wire. Q. So what is it about this programme that makes it deserve the title of the best US crime show ever? A. The scripts. So when two of the chief writers both have novels out in the same month it must be a cause for celebration, and it is.

Lush Life by Richard Price (Bloomsbury £12.99) moves the action from Baltimore to New York, but loses none of the impact. A street robbery turns to murder, and the ripples of this crime spread far and wide, involving victims, their families, the detectives investigating the murder, witnesses, and perpetrators into a Dickensian stew of action and reaction, as the cops are led up blind alley after blind alley. Frustration mounts as their attempts to find the killers are screwed as much by their own bureaucracy as anything the criminals have done.

No episode of Law & Order this, where the police catch the perpetrators in the first 25 minutes, and the lawyers put them away before the end credits. I have two words of warning for the potential reader though. Lush Life is a long novel (455 pages) and it sometimes seems to wander off plot. In addition, Price writes in a strange argot, a mixture of cop/ghetto slang – Wire-speak if you like – so that the reader almost has to learn a new language. This is definitely a novel that needs concentration, but is more than worth the effort.

I've always had a soft spot for George Pelecanos; you've got to love a writer who drives a repro dark green Ford Mustang Bullitt V8. More importantly, he deserves all the praise showered on him. The Turnaround (Orion £12.99) begins by taking us back to 1972 when another random act of violence alters the lives of more than just the participants. A small gang of white teenagers in a stolen car drive into a ghetto area of Washington DC, where a few stoned insults towards a black gang ends in one of the white boys being murdered. Fast forward three and a half decades, and some of the youths have done well, some not so well, and at least one is in prison. Then a chance meeting leads to a final resolution of that day as one of the protagonists offers the hope of redemption to a former enemy.

Once again Pelecanos scores high. Both these books are American crime writing at its finest. Sit back and enjoy.