Fans of Pelecanos's most recent trilogy may be let down by this prequel, which describes the early life of Derek Strange, the detective hero of the searing D.C. cop novels Right as Rain, Hell to Pay and Soul Circus. Pelecanos follows two groups of criminals, one black, one white, planning crimes as Strange gets his badge in 1968. It's the year of riots and assassinations, and Strange's own brother is murdered. So far Pelecanos is on his game; he is masterly at depicting black-white relations and a cop's moral dilemmas. But the usually deft chatter about cars, movies and music that helps define Pelecanos's characters feels formulaic and overdone. And the riot scenes are like newspaper accounts, with characters tracked block by block. That minutiae may intrigue D.C. residents who remember the landmarks, but it stalls a good revenge story.