With 16 novels spanning the past few decades, George Pelecanos has taken crime fiction to new heights. At times, his gritty and smoothly realistic writing transcends the genre and approaches the realm of fine literature. With the release of THE CUT, Pelecanos once again brings readers into the heart of the mean streets of Washington, D.C. with the start of a new series featuring special investigator Spero Lucas.
"Pelecanos clearly has his finger on the pulse of the streets, and his characters breathe with a life that is rarely seen in modern fiction."
Lucas is back from duty in Iraq where he learned much about life and survival --- techniques that are more than adequate enough to get him through anything D.C. may throw at him. A young man who begrudgingly admits to having missed out on college and the carefree wild times that go with it, Lucas is somewhat adrift and trying to find his place in the world. He spends much of his time plying his special investigatory skills for a frumpy defense attorney named Tom Petersen. Petersen utilizes Lucas in a unique way. His job is to recover stolen property for Petersen’s clients and in return receives his cut of 40%.
The latest job Petersen has for Lucas is to help out a high-profile crime boss/drug lord who’s been having his “drop-off” bags of money taken from their destinations. The two bag-men who are working for the imprisoned crime boss are being targeted by someone who appears to know their every move. To make matters worse, a high-school-aged witness claims to have seen one of the culprits who took a bag of money --- and he is a Washington police officer. Just when Lucas begins his case into tracking down the lost loot, the two bag-men are brutally gunned down. Fearing a set-up of unknown proportions, Lucas must now call on all of his street smarts and military training to keep under the radar long enough to uncover the conspiracy that took the lives of his two “clients.” Making matters worse is the fact that the witness in question, Ernest Lindsay, is a top student of Lucas’s brother Leo and now is wanted by the same people who gunned down the pair of bag-men.
Lucas enlists the aid of a few of his Iraq war buddies to get him through some particularly tough missions. The thing that makes Lucas special in threatening circumstances is his positive outlook on life. He is instilled with a drive that many people his age cannot find in these economically and politically troubled times. At one point, he tells a young office intern he is dating: “I’m luckier than some people I know. I’ve found something I like to do. My eyes open in the morning and I have a purpose.” It is sentiments like this that make time spent with Lucas worthwhile for the reader, because you find yourself rooting for him at every turn.
Things get hot for Lucas when he is forced to kill a thug who was out to silence him. After a meeting with a former Washington P.D. detective, Lucas is put on the trail of an aging crime boss who used to be known as Rooster. It was Rooster’s thug who was sent after Lucas. Confusing the issue even more is the fact that the police officer who was seen taking one of the money bags is Rooster’s son, Larry. With all of this danger surrounding him, are these efforts worth it for Lucas? Is the potential for the largest cut of his special investigatory career worth his life?
Long-time fans of George Pelecanos’s work will relish his knowledge of popular culture (films, music, etc.) that is constantly sprinkled throughout the novel and give that much more credibility to the characters involved. Loyal readers will also appreciate the names and places referenced in the book that allude to his prior work --- including the mention of Derek Strange and Strange Investigations, who are featured in several of his previous titles. Pelecanos has created his own literary world within Washington, D.C. and, in doing so, established a microcosm of characters and events that have built a history that propels characters through all of his successive novels.
Having worked in independent film as well as written for the top-notch HBO series “The Wire” and “Treme,” Pelecanos clearly has his finger on the pulse of the streets, and his characters breathe with a life that is rarely seen in modern fiction. THE CUT is another brilliant example of his effortless style and hopefully the start of a long relationship between readers and Spero Lucas.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on August 25, 2011