This is a terrific stand-alone Pelecanos heist novel. I guess every crime writer probably wants to write one of those (I know I certainly do), and this is his.

Shoedog was a fun book. The plot involves a drifter named Constantine who essentially randomly finds himself caught up in a scheme to rob two liquor stores nearly simultaneously. Constantine’s fellow ne’er-do-wells are engaging written and the pace of the novel is action-packed. Shoedog doesn’t involve any of Pelecanos’ other signature characters (Nick Stefanos, Derek Strange, etc.) in a significant way, which is too bad, but the protagonists are interesting enough that you shouldn’t mind too much. It is, however, set in Washington, DC, as are the rest of his books.

This was one Pelecanos’ first novels, but his writing is still as polished as ever. I actually ended up reading this book after I had read all of his other, better known books and found myself enjoying it more than some of his latest. One very minor quibble: the title is a bit of a misnomer, because the “Shoedog” character is not actually the most developed — he plays a decidedly second fiddle to Constantine, the protagonist.

The book ends with one of Pelecanos’ traditional big finale shootouts, but is still entertaining for all that. I would highly recommend this book to any of Pelecanos’ current fans, as well as anyone interested in reading a fun, engaging book about a heist that goes wrong (don’t they all?).

5 stars out of 5

Review copyright 2008 J. Andrew Byers