Sweet Forever

ISBN: 1852426136
ISBN 13: 9781852426132
By: George Pelecanos

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About this book

On the 1980s streets of Washington D.C., homeboys deal, diss, and die. From his downtown record store, Marcus Clay sees a car crash. A drug runner is decapitated, a white boy - desperate to buy love - snatches a bag of cash that a crime-lord wants back. For Marcus's pal Dimitri, the mayhem is a chance to make a score, for two dirty cops - a chance to get free.

Reader's Thoughts

Carolyn (in SC) C234D

I read this in 2000, and made no notes of my reaction to the book. But I like Pelecanos, and have read other books by him, so I must rate it at least three stars; it may deserve more from me, but I just can't remember. On second thought, I'm giving it 4*, I think that I have really liked anything I've read by him.


With characters that make you outraged and disgusted and also sad, George Pelecanos’ “The Sweet Forever” is a notable book, not least of the reasons being that it is as addictive as the crack that is just starting to pour into the novel’s Washington, D.C. setting as it comes to a close. Of course, as Keith Haring so succinctly put it when he named a Harlem mural, “Crack Is Whack,” this can be a good and a bad thing: You find yourself reading Pelecanos' novel probably when you should be getting to that to-do list. But what, exactly, works in this book? What are the ingredients that make it as savory as a plate of lamb kebab? Again, there’s the characters -- foremost, you can see them, feel them, hear them and, most notably, hate them. They are like you and me, caught up in an urban drama not quite of their own making, mostly, but also a bit exaggerated. Like Charles Dickens, Pelecanos knows how to make the people in his novel punch and spit and fuck and cry and laugh even though they don’t quite raise to the level of, say, Shakespeare. Also like Dickens, Pelecanos is great with the mechanics of the plot. What may have been a pretty mediocre starting point in less skilled hands (car carrying drug money crashes, white boy picks up the purse from the dead driver) becomes a great way to investigate the rich dynamics of class, race and basketball. That’s no joke: It’s March Madness in the book and it seems that the NCAA tournament is the glue that holds the city together, but also reflects its spirited struggle. It’s all about the game, whether it’s surviving to be a drug dealer or a record shop owner or a teen in D.C.


Might be my favorite Pelecanos.


This is the first Pelecanos novel I read and serves as a strong introduction to his work. I actually read this before King Suckerman (which received better reviews) but I find this to be the superior work. He is grouped within the hard-boiled genre but his characters, Marcus especially, has more heart than Philip Marlowe and certainly more soul than Sam Spade.


This book might resonate more strongly for those (like me) who have lived in DC, for whom the mere mention of a Ben's chili half-smoke prompts involuntary sense memories; also for those (again, like me) for whom the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s impacted one's material well-being. But all that stated, few U.S. writers active today understand race and class better than Pelecanos, and anyone with a mind and a heart can get into that.

Michael Martz

It feels odd to review a novel 13 years after its publication, but as I'm working my way through George Pelecanos' extensive catalog, I guess it's bound to happen. This is yet another example of his ability to take an incident that is just a part of life in a major city, a traffic accident, and create a masterful story about what really happened and its repercussions.I won't go into the plot, which I'm sure you can glean from the product description on this site. What I like to do when I review is to compare a book to the mental checklist I have on what I like in the particular genre. I also like to determine if there's anything distinctive that makes it stand out or reminds me of other authors or novels.The coolest thing The Sweet Forever has going for it is that it's like opening a time capsule of the mid-1980's. The author does a great job evoking the music, clothing, hairstyles, drug use, etc. from that era. As with his other novels, Pelecanos uses his encyclopedic knowledge of popular music to great effect, and it truly produces an aural soundtrack for the story line. He incorporates music heavily into most (all? don't know, haven't finished the lot) of his books, but this time it seems a little different just because of the '80s time slice for the story.The story is believable and the characters react in predictably unpredictable ways. The dialogue is crisp and life-like, which is one of the author's great strengths. In a lot of ways he reminds me of another favorite, Elmore Leonard- he really 'owns' the genre in a city (Leonard in Detroit, GP in DC), he writes great dialogue, his stories aren't about FBI mastermind crime solvers going after criminal masterminds but more about 'blue collar' lower-level street criminals. I think the thing I like best about him is that he creates characters that are really in the 'grey area'.... the good guys aren't really all that good, the bad guys have some redeeming qualities (at least some of them), the cops have seemingly the same good-to-evil continuum, and there's a number of side characters that contribute color and depth.This is another Pelecanos gem that I can't recommend highly enough.


What I learned from this book: How Wheaton became a joke, U St. triumphed, and Virginia lost its chance. The best hardboiled detective fiction around just happens to be set in DC, and what's not to like?


George Pelecanos writes for The Wire and David Simon raves about him so he's been a 'to-read' for a while. I've finally read a few of his novels and this is my favorite. He writes about DC, the part that feels a lot like Baltimore, and this book, unlike his later ones, isn't strictly a crime novel. The backdrop of the book is the 1986 NCAA tournament - the year of Len Bias - and there are great thematic connections between the frenetic pace and unpredictability of the tournament, the 1980's cocaine epidemic, and the street violence that sweeps up the characters. It's highly structured without feeling artificial. Dialogue and character are his strengths but this book is also very well-crafted. It was pure enjoyment.

Cal Smyth

Great stuff from Pelecanos - pre-Wire Wire - interlinking of lives, black and white, some deliberately vying for criminal supremacy, some surrounded inescapably by crime, others trying to escape it - desperately sad, but with hope...


Misschien wel de rock-’n-rollste van de Amerikaanse misdaadbrigade. Sinds begin jaren negentig is Pelecanos aan een opmars bezig die niet te stuiten valt. Hoewel zijn oeuvre uiteenvalt in verschillende reeksen, de boeken zich afspelen in verschillende tijdperken (wel allemaal naoorlogs) en de nadruk meer verschoven is naar het sociaal-realistische element, is zijn werk in z’n geheel toch verrassend coherent en continu. The Sweet Forever is het derde deel uit zijn D.C. Quartet, vier boeken die zich afspelen in de Amerikaanse hoofdstad, steeds in een ander decennium (The Big Blowdown in de 40s, King Suckerman in de 70s en Shame The Devil in de 90s), maar vaak met terugkerende personages. Dit deel (80s) leunt het meest aan bij King Suckerman, wat door velen nog steeds als z’n beste wordt beschouwd. Concreet: een vunzig semi-blaxploitation sfeertje, geweld en muziek, veel muziek. Dat laatste onderscheidt Pelecanos van zijn collega’s. Hij is een melomaan die schreef over (pop)muziek, ervoor zorgde dat een editie van Hard Revolution een soul-cd als bijlage kreeg, en o.m. al een song aan Steve Wynn bezorgde (”Cindy, It Was Always You” op diens Tick…Tick…Tick). Zijn Strange/Quinn-reeks barst van de soulverwijzingen, hier is het allemaal eerder rockgericht. Misschien niet bijzonder, maar voor een muzieknerd met een zwak voor 80s gitaarrock/punk is het opduiken van The Dream Syndicate, The Feelies, Thin White Rope, Hüsker Dü, Black Flag, Pretenders, Tommy Keane én The Replacements wel een mooie bonus. Gelukkig blijft het niet bij namedroppen, want The Sweet Forever is een van de testosteron stijf staande misdaadroman (ja, mét auto’s en wapens à volonté) die zich ontvouwt aan een rotvaart. Met The Wire zou Pelecanos het meer in politieke/sociale richting zoeken, maar de verscheidenheid aan personages met hun opgefokte taaltje is hier reeds in volle glorie aanwezig. (****)

James Thane

This is another great novel from George Pelecanos which captures brilliantly the disintegration of Washington, D.C., a city that Pelecanos obviously knows very well and loves even more. The book is set in March, 1986. The NCAA tourney seems to be playing on virtually every television set in town and on the streets of D.C. the big game is drugs, particularly the crack cocaine epidemic that seems to blanket much of the city.The story contains a great cast of characters, many of whom have appeared in other Pelecanos novels. Some of these are good people; others are very bad, and a lot of them fall somewhere in between the lines. Here, their lives intersect in a lot of tangled and troubled ways.Marcus Clay is the owner of a small chain of record stores, which he proudly describes as "African American Owned and Operated." One of the stores is located on the edge of the ghetto and from the doorstep of the store, Marcus and his employees have a window on the flourishing drug trade. Then one night a drug-runner's car crashes in front of the store and the driver is decapitated. Marcus sees the crash as does a young white man who runs to the car, initially intending to assist the victim. He sees that is impossible, but he also sees a pillowcase full of drug money. Without thinking about the consequences, he grabs the cash, jumps in his car and races away.In doing so, he sets into motion a complex chain of events, involving crooked cops, drug lords, innocent bystanders and at least a handful of decent people who are just trying to do the Right Thing. The story is both compelling and heart-breaking, and the reader's heart goes out to a city that seems to be collapsing into itself and to the people who are trapped in the wreckage with no apparent hope of salvation. A very Good Read, indeed.

Matt Williams

A good time-passer. Well written cops and gangstas romp set in Washington DC in the eighties. But why does this sort of thing always feel like reading anthropology?


I read this book a couple of days, which is fast for me. It really drew me along, though i did skim the last, winding-down chapter. So why only two stars? There were a couple of stylistic things that started to bother me: mainly, the constant musical references. Hardly a page passed without the title of a song, and the name of the artist, being cited. Sometimes there'd be comments about the musicians, too. They felt arbitrary after a while, and like something extraneous intruding on the narrative. It felt like i had to stop paying attention to the story and dig through my memory banks to recall that Cameo song, and once i'd recalled it, it would bring up memories completely unrelated to the world and themes of the novel (like, with Cameo, for some reason i think of an old optomitrist's office; was it on the radio there? i don't know). I picked this up b/c i knew the author was a writer for "The Wire" on HBO. I'd listened to one of his commentaries on Season 3.

Tom Cox

Like it because it was set in the Washington, D.C. of 1986, with all the music (part of it set in a record store), cocaine, and sporting events of the day. Other than that, it was a garden variety crime novel.

Ask Eirik Storsve

Another great book in the DC Quartet. At some point, while listening to the audio version, I was driving down U street while the story took place on the same street. Local flair is everywhere!

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