The main character of the book is Derek Strange, a black rookie police officer. The story is a prequel to other novels featuring Strange as a private detective. Unlike those stories, which occur in real time, Hard Revolution takes place in 1959 when Strange is a child and in 1968 after he just joins the police force. Beginning in 1959, the novel sets the stage for the moral paths that the main characters take as Pelecanos shows their evolution.
As in all of Pelecanos’ books, Washington, DC is a character throughout the book. Major local landmarks and music are featured familiar to most DC natives but off the beaten path the tourists take. Another major theme in the book is race and racial tension. Throughout the book, Strange fought through the pressure of work and of peer for acceptance of his community. The book climaxes with the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 1968 Washington, D.C. riots, as Strange and veteran Detective Frank Vaughn search for the killer of Strange’s brother in the chaos
A review in BookReport.com stated "Pelecanos's Washington, D.C. is not that of the edifices and facades of government; rather, he walks the streets that aren't mentioned in any guidebooks."
A review in GoodReads.com stated “Filled with the rich details of time, place, music, and local color that are Pelecanos's trademark, and with unerring insight into the morality of daily life, HARD REVOLUTION is a gripping, modern Cane and Abel tale set against the backdrop of a nation at war with itself.”
Booklist Oneline wrote: "As Strange, a proud black man and a good cop, is forced to work riot control in his own neighborhood, all of the unresolvable conflicts--personal, racial, historical, political--that have roiled in the background of this novel are ignited in front of our eyes."
Library Journal wrote: "Pelecanos sets both cases against the backdrop of racial unrest in Washington, D.C., brilliantly using his characters and their situations to examine the era's social realities. As with the previous Strange works, this is a superior crime novel from one of the genre's outstanding writers."