The Turnaround has finally brought me to a conclusion I have gradually been moving towards for a while now: that George Pelecanos is now the finest writer in the genre.
It is not a statement I make lightly. For one, I feel as if we are in something of a golden age of crime, thriller and mystery fiction at present, with dozens of writers from all over the world producing magnificent novels. Second I am not always comfortable with comparisons between these writers, because there is such glorious variety in them that it is not easy to compare like with like.
But even so, Pelecanos' work is special and he is currently operating at such a high level that it is almost impossible not to be moved, educated, entertained, depressed and delighted by his books simultaneously.
Another problem I have is that I am not smart enough to articulate exactly what it is that makes him quite so brilliant, but that's no excuse not to try.
In a recent article in the Guardian, David Simon, creator of The Wire - for which Pelecanos has written - bemoaned the fact that politicians and the mainstream media has stopped asking the one critical question about the great social, cultural and economic schism of the US: "There are two Americas - separate, unequal, and no longer even acknowledging each other except on the barest cultural terms. In the one nation, new millionaires are minted every day. In the other, human beings no longer necessary to our economy, to our society, are being devalued and destroyed."
The only question that matters, Simon argues, is: Why?
The Wire attempts to answer it. And so does George Pelecanos.
Pelecanos does it by telling stories about society's smallest constituent parts: human beings. Black and white, rich and poor and the good, the bad and the vast majority who sit in the middle. Each of their stories helps us come to an understanding about Washington DC - where his novels are set, far away from the ivory towers of the Capitol and the White House - and why it has such a high crime rate, why tracts of it are no go areas to the police and authorities, why so many young black men, in particular, have so few life choices, and why so many of them make the wrong ones.
But his books are not as pessimistic as this might indicate. The stories are also reminders of the resilience and goodness in the vast majority of people.
In telling his tales Pelecanos he reminds us that behind the crime statistics there are a million personal tragedies, comedies and triumphs.
And it is done beautifully. Pelecanos has an extraordinary facility for the minutiae of human life and in writing with empathy for his characters. He is not judgmental, avoids hyperbole and in doing so shows life as it is, rather than stylising and editorialising it for a modern audiencethat is used to being led by the nose by the media.
On top of this: they are great stories, compellingly told.
The Turnaround is his best novel yet. It primarily tells the story of two men on the opposite sides of a violent, fatal incident in the early 1970s and how their lives, and those of the people with them are transformed by the event.
Alex Pappas is a young white teenager, just reaching adulthood, when he is the passenger in a car with two other white boys who drive into a black neighbourhood and hurl abuse at a group of young blacks. As the drunk stoned white boys in the car then try to make their escape, they turn into a dead end and are quickly trapped by the blacks. One escapes on foot. One is killed. Alex is beaten and scarred for life, physically and emotionally.
In the group of blacks that evening is Raymond Monroe, an angry young man with no direction whose life is sliding the wrong way.
Almost four decades on, Pappas is managing the family coffee bar, consumed with grief for the loss of his son in the Iraq war. Monroe, who has a young son on the front line in Afghanistan, is a physical therapist at the Walter Reed military hospital, with he treats the victims of the war on terror.
A chance encounter prompts Monroe to reach out to Pappas and try to right some of the wrongs of that evening 40 years ago. But at the same time, others involved that night are also plotting to settle scores.
What follows is moving and mesmerising: a trip through modern urban America that is a literary tour de force.
There is also one additional element to The Turnaround that makes it particularly powerful. One of the things I have always liked about Pelecanos is that he writes about Washington DC and describes the effects of the power games played out there without ever explicit reference to politics. And here, again, through Pappas' and Monroe's links to the military and the Walter Reed facility he vivdly brings to the life the terrible cost of war without overtly making judgment on it.
If I read a better work of fiction this year I will be pleasantly surprised.