Narrated by the Pelecanos character Derek Strange, it all starts with the murder of Bobby Odum and the theft of a ring. Parked outside – a Plymouth Fury, the GT Sport two-door with a V8 inside. The plates read Coco, as in brothel owner Coco Watkins, Robert Lee ‘Red Fury’ Jones’s woman. So Strange is hired by Maybelline Walker, a friend of Odum and the owner of the ring. Meanwhile, detective Frank Vaughn, his former partner in the Washington DC police, is trying to catch Red Fury and put an end to his murderous rampage. Vaughn and Strange team up once again.
Throughout this retro, 1970s story, the seemingly unimportant ring changes hands several times before ending up in its rightful owner’s possession. The ring motif is a brilliant device, connecting different plotlines, serving as a thread between the characters, some of whom are following its trail. With an endless selection of cars and musical tracks referenced throught, What It Was turns into a multisensory experience that works on many levels. The writing is as laid-back as any good storytelling should be, and the characters are so real that you can picture them, and hear the clicks and bangs of the guns, the rumbling engines and the screeches of tyres. Atmospheric. Excellent.