A Firing Offense by George Pelecanos

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A Firing Offense by George Pelecanos
Publisher: Orion Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

As the advertising director of Nutty Nathan’s, Nick Stefanos knows all the tricks of the electronics business. Blow-out sales and shady deals were his life. When one of the stockboys disappears, it’s not news: just another metalhead who went off chasing some dream of big money and easy living. But the kid reminded Nick of himself twelve years ago: an angry punk hooked on speed metal and the fast life. So when the boy’s grandfather begs Nick to find the kid, Nick says he’ll try.

Nick Stefanos works in advertising but has climbed his way up to his comfortable office position the long way – through the sales floor ranks and up through every level. He is perfectly happy to coast along until the grandfather of one of the stockboys Nick is friendly with approaches him. Nick isn’t too worried to hear the young man has gone missing, but as Nick casually looks into it what he uncovers is far darker and way more violent than he could have ever expected.

I was surprised just how much I enjoyed this very noir style of mystery. On the surface it’s quite simple, Nick reluctantly agrees to ask a few questions from people he knows and doesn’t plan to step too far out of his own path or stretch much at all. But what he thought was just a kid out having a good time is very much not that and so much more complicated everything – including Nick’s comfortable life – spirals out of control. This in itself could have easily been a gritty, older-style of noir hard boiled story, but the author does an amazing job of balancing this with a very seedy sort of underlife to the city and edges that really darkens the story significantly to my mind.

With frequent and very casual use of drugs and alcohol – sometimes to a level where I had to pause and wonder how the characters could have got away with their antics, I realized that while certainly fiction, the scenarios for all their craziness were so very plausible and realistic. This, more than the plot of the missing young man, really lent a weight and heaviness to the whole story I felt. It was simultaneously the thing I enjoyed most about the book, but equally the thing that disquieted me the entire read through.

This will not be every readers cup of tea, for sure. Different and envelope pushing this is a gritty and realistic read that while filled with violence and drug/alcohol abuse is also a story firmly about Nick and how when it comes to the crunch he – like all of us – has decisions to make. Decisions about which path to follow, what choices he can live with and where he draws the line between right and wrong, acceptable and not. It’s not often a book makes me really stop reading mid-sentence, sit back, think and mull over these sorts of things. And as uncomfortable as that was, I found it refreshing and brilliant though it took a while for me to get through it as there were a number of things I personally needed to dwell on and unpack as I trailed along after Nick.

Readers who can handle a darker and gritter style of writing and background and particularly those who like to occasionally delve deeper into life and our choices really should check this out. There are two more books featuring Nick Stefanos and after my heart rate has calmed down a bit I fully expect I’ll be purchasing them both.

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