There are a couple of moments in George Pelecanos’ crime novel “The Cut” when his protagonist, solider-turned-investigator Spero Lucas, finds his heart beating and blood racing, usually when he’s confronted with horrific violence.
But most of the time, Lucas is the epitome of cool. And that makes “The Cut” cool reading.
Somebody with better oversight of the world of crime novels would know the answer to this question, but I can’t help but wonder if we’re seeing a slew of new thrillers and hard-boiled PI books featuring capable young heroes newly back in the US after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Another good series, Ace Atkins’ books about Mississippi sheriff Quinn Colson, comes to mind.
Pelecanos is planning on turning Spero Lucas’ adventures in gritty DC into a series and it feels like a natural.
“The Cut” finds Lucas back home after his tour of duty in Iraq. He’s working for a defense attorney and distinguishing himself for his no-nonsense investigations.
Between cases, he’s contacted by an imprisoned drug dealer who wants to hire him to find packages of marijuana that have been stolen. The dealer was using that tried-and-true method of moving illegal materials: Shipping packages to houses that are vacant during the day, then sending his men to get the packages off the doorstep. Except that the packages are being stolen.
Lucas, who has a moral code but doesn’t frown on associating with criminals, decides he can work for the dealer for a 40 percent cut of the money recovered.
While chasing down leads, Lucas finds the case is a little too close to home for members of his family, including his brother, a school teacher. Lucas and a small circle of cohorts put themselves on the line to save a promising young student and avenge the deaths of a couple of likable guys who should have known better but didn’t.
Some readers might be perturbed by the way Pelecanos has Lucas so damn casual about everything, including working with less-than-savory characters and, frankly, murder. But the character is ideally drawn considering his military background and his “you or them” matter-of-fact attitude.
While the story is as straightforward as a Robert Parker Spenser novel, Pelecanos fills “The Cut” with a lot of nice little touches, from Lucas’ way with women to his love of food to his blended Greek-and-African-American family.
Pelecanos has written several books but may be best known as one of the creative types behind “The Wire,” the highly-regarded HBO series.
“The Cut” is my first chance to sample Pelecanos’ work. You can bet it won’t be my last.