Private investigator Nick Stefanos is inadvertently drawn into the murder of a young man, a murder which sees Nick partnering up with a fellow PI named Jack LaDuke – while the two men are very different on the surface, they will be dragged through the cold and violent underbelly of Washington, D.C. together as they search for the truth behind the recent murder, with neither emerging unscathed. Washington, D.C. private investigator Nick Stefanos is still working part-time at the bar named the Spot, and one night after work he decides to go on a drunken bender, Nick being a full-blown alcoholic by this point in his life. Nick ends up passing out next to the Anacostia River, but just before he loses consciousness he hears some kind of commotion at the water's edge. The following morning, Nick wakes up, hung over, and learns that the commotion was a murder being committed – the body of a young man, shot to death, is floating in the water.
Feeling guilty over having been too drunk to possibly do anything about the murder that took place so close to him, Nick begins to look into the crime. In terms of his personal life, Nick has been in a relationship with his girlfriend, Lyla McCubbin, for a while, although both are too dependent on alcohol as a coping method – Nick knows Lyla is good for him, however.
Nick speaks to Boyle, a cop he knows, and learns that the police are dismissing the murder of the young man, Calvin Jeter, as just another drug-related crime. Nick does pick up a lead in the form of Roland Lewis, Calvin's best friend, and he also tells Boyle how he believes the pair of killers who murdered Calvin are from out of town. Boyle mentions a potential witness to the murder, a local man who has gone missing.
Nick visits Calvin's home, the only clue he finds being a matchbook from a bar named the Fire House. He then visits the mother of Roland Lewis, Shareen, a career woman who offers Nick no help. That night, Nick is confronted by Jack LaDuke, a fellow private investigator who has been hired by Shareen Lewis to find her son. LaDuke suggests to Nick that they team up and Nick reluctantly agrees, with Nick and Jack then paying a visit to Roland's home, where they see signs that Roland might be gay.
Nick learns that a number of personals adverts in the local newspapers are simply fronts for illegal enterprises, and he suspects that Calvin and Roland were involved in such a scheme. Later, Nick heads to the gay bar named the Fire House and speaks to employee Paul Ritchie, who doesn't know anything about Calvin or Roland, although he mentions how some local male prostitutes recently started robbing potential customers.
Boyle tells Nick a rumour that Calvin and Roland were both acting as drug mules, while Nick and Jack speak to Eddie Colorado, a local male prostitute who tells them that Calvin and Roland had been working the same area as him, and that Roland started robbing customers. Threatened by the other prostitutes into leaving, Roland and Calvin told them they were moving onto bigger things by starring in gay pornographic movies.
Nick picks up a lead on the pornography angle in the form of a warehouse and its owner, Bernard Tobias, who is in the business. Then Nick goes on another drunken bender and cheats on Lyla – although he doesn't tell her about it, he knows their relationship is now over, and so he gradually pushes her away.
Nick arranges a meeting with Tobias, Nick and a couple of his friends pretending to be businessmen involved in the gay pornography industry. Nick learns that Tobias receives his pornographic films from a local supplier, and also learns the location of their base of operations.
Barry, a relative of Calvin's, confirms to Nick that Calvin and Roland were drug mules, and that the men who got Calvin and Roland into drugs are the same man who involved them in gay pornography, the two business being run by the same criminals. Jack tells Nick what he has learned – that Roland is still alive, and that Calvin was murdered for trying to get out of the drugs game.
Nick and Jack break into the warehouse where the criminals are based, pretending to be stick-up men as they take Roland and an amount of cash from the place while holding the other men – including hardened killers Sweet and Coley – at gunpoint. Later, away from the warehouse, Nick and Jack release Roland, who wasn't involved in Calvin's murder, and then they send the stolen cash to Calvin's mother.
Days later, Nick and Jack learn that Roland has been shot to death, apparently murdered by the same criminals who killed Calvin and who Nick and Jack ripped off. Nick finally finds and speaks to William Cooper, the missing witness to Calvin's murder, who confirms that Sweet and Coley murdered Calvin.
Nick heads alone to the criminals' new base of operations, another warehouse, although he is caught and held at gunpoint by Coley and Sweet, the latter giving Nick a beating. Jack appears to rescue Nick, and Jack and Coley shoot each other in the attempt, Jack wounded in the face while Coley is killed. Jack and Nick proceed to kill Sweet and several other criminals and Nick escapes alone, Jack having apparently died in the burning warehouse.
Nick learns that the criminals were being bankrolled by their landlord, a businessman and drug dealer named Richard Samuels. Nick meets him and kills him as revenge for the murdered Calvin and Roland.
The weeks pass, with Nick, now without Lyla after their relationship finally came to an end, not being connected to the recent violence by the police. LaDuke suddenly shows up, alive but horribly scarred, and tells Nick he will be around, although the two men now go their separate ways. And so Nick is left alone, feeling old and tired.
Best part of story, including ending:
George Pelecanos concludes his Nick Stefanos trilogy with Down By The River Where The Dead Men Go, an amazing piece of hardboiled crime fiction that once again sees the flawed private investigator trying to solve a murder while battling his own inner demons, which are now stronger than ever. Pelecanos writes in his usual gripping style, combining flowing, natural dialogue with plenty of immersive descriptions and details, and the author once again crafts a story containing plenty of bleakness and melancholy but without overdoing it, with basic morality and humanity remaining in spite of everything.
Best scene in story:
My favourite scene in the book is the opening scene, which sees Nick going on a drunken bender. It's a faithful and effective scene that serves a dual purpose, showing us just how far Nick has descended into self-destructive alcoholism while also setting up the central plot that drives the rest of the book.
Opinion about the main character:
This is the third and final book in George Pelecanos' Nick Stefanos trilogy, and Nick is just as interesting to read about as before. By the time this book begins, Nick has been through a lot and his burgeoning alcoholism has become full-blown – although he may be more of a flawed mess than ever, Nick hasn't totally lost sight of who he is, and remains a great protagonist who easily carries the book.