Newly licensed private investigator Nick Stefanos is hired by old friend Billy Goodrich to find Billy's missing wife, a case Nick accepts while also trying to learn the truth about a murdered acquaintance – working these two cases will put Nick's life in danger, force him to face up to some very dark truths, and leave him permanently changed. Washington, D.C.'s Nick Stefanos has recently acquired his private investigator licence but also tends bar at the Spot to supplement his income. He has also recently gained a friend, lesbian bartender Jackie; and lost one, reporter William Henry, who was murdered.
One night, Nick's high-school friend Billy Goodrich, who Nick once took a booze-and-drug-fuelled, gloriously memorable road trip with when they were teenagers but who Nick hasn't seen in the fifteen years since, walks into the Spot. Billy has changed, having become a greedy and ambitious yuppie while Nick hasn't strayed from his roots at all. Billy asks Nick to find his wife, April, who has recently disappeared. Billy says April may have left him for his business associate Joey DiGeordano, a local criminal. Nick takes the case.
While Nick looks into the missing April Goodrich and the murdered William Henry, he is also asked by Jackie to impregnate her so that she and her female lover can have a child together. Nick agrees to do so.
Nick learns that April stole $200,000 from DiGeordano before disappearing, and then he and Billy take a trip out of Washington, D.C. to follow up on a lead that April went to see her ex-boyfriend Tommy Crane after skipping town. Questioned by Nick, Billy admits that he and April planned the $200,000 robbery, and that the only reason he wants to find his wife now is to get his stolen money back. After meeting Tommy Crane, Nick suspects that Crane knows something about April's disappearance.
Nick and Billy return to Washington, D.C., and a confession from a man whose actions inadvertently assisted the murderer of William Henry lead Nick closer to the truth of his friend's murder. Meanwhile, Goloria and Wallace, two corrupt cops, threaten Nick to stop searching for April.
Nick returns to Tommy's house, breaks in, and discovers the stolen $200,000 along with evidence that Tommy murdered April. Tommy appears and tries to kill Nick, whose life is saved by a local cop who appears and shoots Tommy to death.
Nick and Billy attend April's funeral, where Billy's only concern is the $200,000, which Billy doesn't know Nick has found. Disgusted with his old friend, Nick pushes him away, whatever remained of their old friendship finally dying.
Nick continues his pursuit of William's killer, leading him to a trio of local criminals named Bonanno, Frank, and Solanis. Nick also learns that the crooked cop Goloria is working with these three criminals – it is these four men who were behind the murder of William due to his investigative reporting threatening to expose their crimes.
Nick wants justice for his friend's murder, and so with the help of a cop he knows named Boyle, the two men confront Bonanno, Frank, Solanis, and Goloria. A shootout erupts in which the four criminals are killed. Nick's involvement is never known by the public, and Boyle is hailed as a hero.
Nick calls Billy and tells him they have some unfinished business, and the two men meet. Billy demands the stolen $200,000 but Nick reveals he has already given the money back to Joey DiGeordano. Nick also confronts Billy with the truth: that Billy knew all along that April was dead, as he had tipped off Tommy Crane about April's impending visit with the $200,000. But Tommy had killed April and kept all of the money for himself rather than split it with Billy. Billy had simply been using Nick all along in an effort to get his stolen money back. Nick lets Billy walk but not without informing the police about his crimes.
Later, Billy is sentenced to two years in prison, while the now-pregnant Jackie and her lover leave town for San Francisco. Although Nick is lonely and tired and bitter after his experiences, he soon begins a promising relationship with a woman he really likes - it's a sliver of light amongst the darkness.
Best part of story, including ending:
Nick's Trip is one of George Pelecanos' earliest novels and for me personally, one of his best. Pelecanos' trademark style – natural, flowing dialogue and plenty of atmospheric details concerning music, cars, booze, and Washington, D.C. – is already in evidence in this book, the second starring private investigator Nick Stefanos. Nick is a great protagonist and the way in which Pelecanos handles the theme of friendship – one of the book's central themes and one which ultimately hits Nick hard – is brilliant, Nick's Trip delivering an excellent hardboiled crime story and much more besides.
Best scene in story:
Perhaps the book's most effective scene is its entire denouement, when the truth concerning Billy's intentions and personality come to light. Even though the book has previously shown us how jaded and cynical Nick can be at times, there are clearly still certain fundamental things in which he believes, and the loss of one of these things – a friendship which, although having been dormant for years, is still supposed to mean something – comes as a hard blow to Nick, harsh reality taking away one of the few things of meaning left in Nick's life. It's a brilliant ending that is bleak but not totally without hope.
Opinion about the main character:
George Pelecanos is adept at creating multifaceted characters and flawed protagonists, and the character of Nick Stefanos is no exception. At the beginning of Nick's Trip, Nick is already teetering on the brink of a slippery slope due to his self-destructive leanings, and the events of this novel only push him further down a dark path. All the while, however, Pelecanos retains Nick's basic morality and sense of right and wrong.