THE DOUBLE will be one of the best books you read this year. I guarantee it. The second installment in what we will call the Spero Lucas series (following THE CUT in 2011) by George Pelecanos delves a bit deeper into Lucas’s personality and character without sacrificing the story’s plot, storyline, or action. While reading, I was reminded of Elmore Leonard’s famous rule for authors to the effect that, if it sounds like writing, one should re-write it. Pelecanos’s dry narrative voice never fails or waivers; it is strong, steady and unflinching from first page to last. While THE DOUBLE may be divided into chapters, there is no good place to stop reading, other than at the words “The End.” You can feel the brakes go out by the second or third page; after that, there’s no choice but to keep rolling until the road runs out.
Lucas is employed as a private investigator by Tom Petersen, a Washington, D.C.-area defense attorney; he also takes on some jobs on his own that involve, shall we say, the occasional extra-legal shortcut. Lucas keeps the two ledgers separate so as to not cause his attorney employer difficulty, but it's a fine line he walks, particularly throughout the pages of THE DOUBLE. Fittingly enough, the book follows Lucas as he walks through two cases.
"THE DOUBLE will be one of the best books you read this year. I guarantee it.... You can feel the brakes go out by the second or third page; after that, there’s no choice but to keep rolling until the road runs out."
One involves an investigation for Petersen concerning a client named Calvin Bates, who is on trial for the first-degree murder of his mistress. The other is a bit more complicated. Grace Kinkaid retains Lucas to recover a valuable painting named “The Double,” which has been stolen from her apartment. Kinkaid is almost certain that the painting was taken by an ex-boyfriend of hers, a user who had summarily dumped her almost simultaneously with the disappearance of the painting. Lucas, whose investigative technique involves a bit of the old-school with a dab of the cutting edge, follows a trail to the guy, who, with his two partners in crime, has little redeeming social value, a fact that does not make them any less dangerous.
Meanwhile, Lucas is juggling his personal life with his professional, having become involved --- make that obsessed --- with an extremely attractive married woman who begins a torrid affair with him. She gets something from Lucas that her husband can’t give her, but he wants more. Not content with just a sexual relationship, Lucas would love to date her and be able to go places with her, which simply is not going to happen. It's obvious that their relationship will not end well; the question is how badly it’s going to end and how much Lucas will get hurt. Ultimately, all issues (or almost all of them) are resolved, to one degree or another, and not all of them satisfactorily for those concerned.
Spero Lucas is a difficult character to describe. He thrives on adrenaline, often to his detriment; his chosen occupation is one that clearly does not guarantee he will live to a ripe-old age. His familial and social circles are interesting as well; hopefully both will be further explored in future volumes of this engrossing and addictive series, which is dark, gritty, and very, very real.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 11, 2013