Friday, 16 December 2011

"The Cut" by George Pelecanos

Year of Publication:  2011
Number of Pages:  292 pages
Genre:  Crime, thriller

Since his debut in 1992, American novelist George Pelecanos has carved out a niche for himself chronicling the dark side of life in Washington D.C., as well as writing for such acclaimed television series as The Wire (2002-2008) and Treme (2010 - ongoing).

The Cut tells the story of Spero Lucas, who has recently returned to his hometown of Washington D.C. after serving a tour of duty as a Marine in Iraq, and now works as a private investigator for a defence attorney.  Lucas' speciality is recovering stolen property, no questions asked, for which he receives a fee ("the cut" of the title) of forty percent of the property's value.  Hearing of his speciality, Lucas is contacted by a high profile crime boss in prison who wants Lucas to find out who is stealing valuable packages of drugs from his operation.  Despite his qualms about working for the man, the fee is too great for Lucas to resist.  However, Lucas is soon pitted against a group whose ruthlessness and taste for violence leave him shocked and he soon realises that his investigation could have deadly consequences.

This is the first of a proposed new series, but it is very much in the vein of Pelecanos' previous work.  His work benefits enormously from his extensive local knowledge of Washington D.C.,  and is enriched by the frequent references to soul music, food, movies, as well as Greek-American culture (all of which are typical Pelecanos trademarks).  His books are well written and his stories are well plotted, exciting and engaging.  Driven more by dialogue than action, Pelecanos builds a number of interesting character here, most notably the flawed but consistently likeable Spero Lucas, even if the main villain of the novel does not seem to have much depth.  There are certain themes in the novel about the problems faced by returning soldiers, violent crime, drugs, race, family and the difficulty of doing the right thing in a dangerous and complex world, which often aren't really developed, but don't really interfere with the story. 

There is plenty here to appeal to fans of Pelecanos and it's an entertaining, exciting and quick read.  George Pelecanos is a talented and distinctive crime writer and well worth checking out.


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