Constantine is a 35-year-old drifter and loner who hitches a ride with a career criminal named Polk, this being only the beginning of an association which leads Constantine back to his home town of Washington, D.C., where he becomes involved with a group of more dangerous criminals and an upcoming heist. Constantine is a loner and drifter who has walked many miles and been many places, but now he finally returns to his home town of Washington, D.C. after many years away when he hitches a ride with Polk, an older man who turns out to be a career criminal and who needs to make a stop in Washington, D.C.
Even when Constantine learns of Polk's profession, he stays with him because he genuinely likes the older man and because he simply has nothing better to do, having wandered aimlessly for the majority of his adult life. Constantine is introduced to a group of criminal associates of Polk, one of whom is Randolph, a shoe salesman by day and another man whose company Constantine comes to enjoy. The other associates meanwhile, are three far more dangerous and ruthless men: wealthy crime boss Grimes, and his two murderous thugs Gorman and Valdez.
Grimes brings Polk and Constantine into an upcoming liquor store heist he has planned, Constantine's involvement in the situation being complicated by his attraction to Grimes' trophy woman, Delia. The plans, secrets, and lies play out during the time leading up to the heist, during which Constantine also considers aspects of his past which have returned to the fore now that he is back in his home town.
Eventually the heist takes place but it doesn't go according to plan and Polk is killed. Constantine frees Delia from Grimes' grip and learns that Grimes set up Polk to be killed during the robbery. As revenge for Polk, Constantine kills Grimes along with Gorman and Valdez, but loses his own life in the process.
Best part of story, including ending:
Shoedog may not feature the degree of scope and social commentary present in some of George Pelecanos' later books but this doesn't mean it suffers for it. Shoedog is a lean, gripping crime story filled with interesting and believable characters – particularly its central protagonist, Constantine – and which does feature some of Pelecanos' traits such as natural-sounding and well-flowing dialogue, and evocative details concerning cars, music, and the geography of Washington D.C., in particular.
Best scene in story:
Alongside the book's excellent and dramatic ending, one of its most affecting scenes involves Constantine meeting up with an ex-girlfriend while he is in his home town, a woman he hasn't seen for many years. Whatever their initial expectations, their encounter turns out to be a sour one that only darkens any good memories the pair might have for each other and shows in a melancholy way that even Constantine is back in Washington, D.C., as the old saying goes: “You can never go home again.”
Opinion about the main character:
Constantine is a fascinating character to read about – even though he gives little away on the surface, he is a well-realised character with an interesting backstory, some of which is spelled out overtly, some of which is more subtle and hinted at. Anyone who has felt like they were drifting alone through life at any point might easily connect to the drifter Constantine.