George Pelecanos’ The Cut introduced readers to a new character and a new phase in his writing. The book, which features Spero Lucas, an Iraq war vet who does leg work for a D.C. lawyer and recovers stolen items for forty percent of their value, wedded the fast paced PI novels of his early career with the looser, more socially aware novels that came later. It worked brilliantly, making the two year wait for its follow up, The Double, feel like an eternity. Pelecanos proves it was worth it.
In classic private eye tradition, Spero has two jobs in The Double. The first is to help his law firm defend a man up on murder charges. The case gives us a cold look at the justice system. His off-the-books work is to retrieve a painting taken from a woman by her lover. The thief, Billy King, proves to be more dangerous than your average gigolo con man. It’s in dealing with Billy and his crew where we see Spero in his bad ass glory.
Pelecanos has taken the hero novel associated with the likes of John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee and has both stripped it down and raised it up. He’s brought the genre down to a simpler, grittier street level. By doing so he gives us a greater feeling of realism and more depth to his characters and the issues raised, particularly the subject of returning veterans.
Like McDonald did with McGee, Pelecanos allows his hero to breath instead of just hustling him through one scrape after another. we get to know his adopted mother and school teacher brother. A romantic subplot involving a married woman explores another side of Spero, yet one completely important to who he is as well as who he’s becoming. We get a man trying to find his place, learn his dangerous trade, and develop a code to go along with it.
The Double is a perfect follow up to The Cut. It gives us plenty of tough guy action, while also giving us a believable look at what makes that guy tough. Pelecanos is giving us a fully formed hero on an exciting journey that is more complex than it seems. I can’t wait for Spero’s next step. Let’s hope it takes less than two years.
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