44 of 50 people found the following review helpful
I've been reading Pelecanos's books for almost 20 years now, and this latest hits all the marks fans of his have to come to love and expect: cars, music, food, movies, crime, the importance of family and fathers, the struggles of young men to become men, and, of course, a street-level view of everyday Washington, D.C. So, if you've previously read and enjoyed his work, this one should be just as satisfying. And if you're a newcomer, this is a fine place to start.
This book introduces a new protagonist, Spero Lucas, the adopted son of a Greek-American family who has returned to D.C. after years as a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pelecanos has touched upon the world of veterans in other books, but this is the first to feature one as the main character. Coincidentally, the last book I read before this was Night Dogs, a blistering police novel about a Vietnam veteran cop in mid-'70s Portland. Its portrait of the struggle of a Vietnam vet to adapt to life outside the war (based heavily on the author's own experiences as a cop) gives great insight into the ways going to war can change people forever, and not for the better.
Here, Pelecanos tackles the same dilemma facing many young people coming back home from America's warzones. Spero spent his youth to the military, and now he's in his late-20s, somewhat adrift in civilian society. He's smart, but has no interest in going to college, and spends his days, biking, kayaking, and working as an unlicensed investigator for a criminal defense attorney at the princely wage of $15/hour. The work is interesting enough, but when one of the lawyer's clients makes a proposition to hire Spero for something on the shady side, Spero is lured in by both the money and the potential risk. And that, as Chapter 1 concludes is when, "the truck began to roll downhill."
What follows is a typically engaging Pelecanos story, full of procedural detail, taking the reader across the city. From a classroom at Cardozo High School (where Pelecanos has done some work with kids), to a VFW post, to eerie warehouses in the far reaches of the city, to the legendary Florida Avenue Grill, he is the foremost guide to the streets and people of Washington, D.C. I used to work right down the block from one area that features in the plot, and I drive and bike through the area Spero lives in on a daily basis, and Pelecanos has the sights and sounds dead on. Speaking of sounds, the music for this book is dub, which is a new territory for him, and if you want some good tunes to accompany your read of this book, pick up Augustus Pablo's King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, Lee Perry's Blackboard Jungle Dub, or one of the "Heavyweight" samplers from the Blood & Fire label.
I suppose the one minor criticism I'd make of the book is that the ending is much "cleaner" than I expected. Without spoiling anything, I will just say that I expected there to be some greater consequences or blowback than there proved to be. However, since this appears to be the launch of a new character and new series, it may be that Pelecanos is going to spend a little time building Spero's world up before heading down that road. A final warning: it's short, you can read it in about three hours, and it's going to leave you wanting more.
45 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2011
I have read all of Pelecanos' prior books and liked or loved all of them. The Cut, sadly, is is his most diappointing book in over a decade, if not ever. His new character, Spero Lucas, lacks the interest and complexity of his prior characters--he is simply another version of Lee Child's superhuman hero, Jack Reacher, with only a black foster brother to give him a non-generic characteristic. Like Reacher, he is a war vet, with a rock hard body, disdain for 9-5 jobs, a yen for aggression and supernatural appeal to women. Early on, Lucas meets a gorgeous law student in an office and she instantly agrees to sleep with him. A few pages later, he meets an attractive lawyer on her porch and--surprise!--she has instant sex with him. Could it be any more repetitive? Sadly, yes--a few pages after that, a prison guard comes on to him.
The plot is predictable and much more superficial than Pelecanos' earlier work. The constant recitals of song titles, urban woes and restaurant specialties seem rote.
Apparently, there will be other Lucas books--I fear Pelecanos has been seduced by the riches showered on Lee Child.
What a shame.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
George Pelecanos' novel The Cut introduces what is likely to be a new and important series character: Spero Lucas. Adopted into a Greek family with mixed-race siblings, Spero has recently returned from Iraq. He has set up an unlicensed agency in which he recovers stolen or lost goods, taking a 40% cut. His current employer is a Washington defense lawyer. A heavy chunk of marijuana has gone missing and the lawyer, who represents the drug dealer, wants Spero to find it. In the meantime, Spero is bedding the lawyer's intern and trying to keep his life on track. He hasn't gone to college, but he's a reader and a serious man and he knows metropolitan Washington as well as . . . well, as well as George Pelecanos, which is to say he knows it as well as Mike Davis knows L.A. or Richard Daley knew Chicago.
Spero's assignment quickly goes to hell as people die unexpectedly. He finds himself up against some nasty freelancers with an insider at the police department and an array of heavy weaponry. Spero calls on some of his old Marine buddies for help but basically he's on his own--outnumbered and outgunned.
The writing is pure Pelecanos: lean, spare, stark, with a commanding sense of place and a vision of experience that reminds us of what realism is all about. Spero is an attractive character, capable of sustaining an extended series. Since he is an investigator and since he is in it for the long haul the atmospherics are more Chandlerian than Sophoclean and Washington is more of a series of echoes of cultural resonance than the waste land that Pelecanos often describes.
The plot moves right along and there is just enough sex, drugs, violence and bluesy rock to sustain interest without distracting us from the task at hand: getting Spero's cut.
This is a significant book. Don't miss it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2011
Pelecanos brings a certain poetry, a certain literary touch to the crime fiction genre.
The Cut is no exception. Pelecanos understands the genre like Monet understood paint and landscape. He instinctively knows which clichés, which `norms' of the genre will work and which to avoid to maintain that literary height. First, the ones he uses and uses oh, so well; Spero Lucas is, like many protagonists of crime fiction, a war veteran. He served as a Marine in Iraq and was an obvious man of action choosing to be the first in the door at `clearing houses' in the streets of Fallujah. Secondly, like Sam Spade or Philip Marlow, Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder or Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, Spero is a loner.
He also maintains that ambiguous place between the cops and the criminals and has his own set of values based in common sense and not writ in stone laws. And probably most important, Pelecanos' subject matter is very socially aware and pertinent in making some social issues a part of the back story i.e. a feeling of detachment of returning vets, how disabled vets get lost in society, the complicated racial relations of our nations capital, which in and of itself is a microcosm of the nation as a whole. Even marijuana laws and the duplicity and corruption of law enforcement lends itself to make the story more than realistic.
After returning from Iraq, Spero wasn't drawn to college not being able to see himself wearing a suit and tie or bound to a desk and office. He drifted into investigative work employing a keen sense of observation that allowed him to survive the war. He writes and diagrams everything he sees in a moleskin note book or takes endless photos with his iPhone - the new gun for the 21st century detective.
He also does `side jobs' finding lost or stolen propertythat the official authorities wouldn't bother to look for or retrieve for the owners. Oft time the owners won't even report these things because they in themselves may be illegal - unreported income, or a drug stash for instance. He preforms this for the arbitrarily arrived at fee of 40% of the value. Hence the title, The Cut.
The clichés he avoids are, endless, senseless violence that only show how tough the tough guy hero is. Spero comes off as more a thinking mans tough guy with his minute analysis of everything from a street to a crime scene to a legal problem.Yet, there is this quiet sense of menace underneath the skin. And almost a recklessness in his approach at times.
He is also a very good reader of character. The author avoids the obvious cliché of too cute dialog. In fact I, who loves the one liners, cynicism and sarcasm of Phillip Marlow, was pleasantly amazed that there is no attempt of that forced elements in the book. Instead, the dialog not only drives the character development but the story and plot.
And, if nailing all the other story elements isn't enough, Pelecanos' gives a sense of place, Washington DC, that is superb. He takes you through alleys, and down streets, observes buildings, architecture, row houses and school yards, history and the seasons in detail and makes it endlessly interesting. It's a side of the city you don't see often in fiction. It's not a DC of movers and shakers and thousand dollar suits and limos. It's a city diverse in it's racial make up, rich in it small bars, night clubs and restaurants. It's a city of the homeless living in the shadows of our greatest monuments to a promised land. In short, he gives the city to average everyday people. The politicians just work there.
What Pelecanos' has done here is to fashion a first class crime story that stands head and shoulders above the genre and contains all the right elements to be considered literary fiction as well as popular fiction. Then he wraps it up as the opening of a series that should keep any reader ecstatic for years to come. It's a masters hand at work here, and a master that not only knows the craft of writing but the art of life in the heart of America's capital.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2011
I admit I'm in the tank for George Pelecanos- loved his Derek Strange novels, and I think Hard Revolution is a modern classic. There are a lot of familiar elements here- the love of food, frank appreciation of women as sexual partners, the loving look at parts of D.C. you don't see in stock movie footage. And you just know at some point the main character is going to throw down with some bad guys. Pelecanos continues to show his reverence for blue-collar America, the great unseen middle that does its best to stay on the right path. Having brought in a veteran as a new character allows for some new avenues to explore, like the difficulties a lot of Iraq/Afpak vets are facing upon their return to civilian life. And Spero Lucas is superbly trained and experienced in the use of violence- will he be too quick to resort to it ? Time will tell.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2011
In THE CUT Pelecanos vividly describes not only the struggle of a returning vet coming to terms with rejoining society, but that of young men in the city in general trying to make a living whilst avoiding crime and violence. The writing is in his usual style that uses little adverbs or descriptive prose, but somehow manages to build up the picture for the reader through the actions and reactions of the main characters. The street life and action scenes are very realistic and the main character both believable in his flawed or guiltless motivation and likeable as a result.
Spero Lucas is a tough Iraq veteran who keeps himself super-fit and on return to Washington finds work with a disreputable defence attorney. Spero is trying to find direction on civvy street and whilst figuring this out uses his talents to recover debts for Tom Peterson's clients. Things get heavy when he is hired to protect drop offs for a dangerous crime boss (like there's any other kind) and the bag-men are hit and he becomes chief suspect. Lucas uses his military training to avoid his pursuers and gather forces whilst trying to figure out who is behind it all.
Another great read from Pelecanos that has left me eager for the next!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I've been a fan of Pelecanos ever since I found out he was one of the creators of The Wire (I'm surely not the first person to tell you to watch that show), and I actually liked this book a little more than the last couple of his I've read. It's still set in the Washington D.C. area, which he does such a great job bringing to life, but it's not so focused on an "issue". I don't mind a good issue-focused novel, but sometimes I just want a good crime story. Now don't get me wrong; this crime story isn't issue-free. Lucas is an Iraq veteran, and Pelecanos does have a lot to say about veterans and their post-war treatment. But at its heart, this is a story about drugs.
Lucas is a private investigator who specializes in finding things that are lost. He's also not very particular about which side of the law he's working on. When the client of a lawyer he normally works for needs some help recovering some "property", Lucas agrees to help. Soon he finds out that the story is much bigger than he could have imagined, and not only is he in danger, but people that have helped him are too.
I liked the character of Lucas. He's an adopted kid in a mixed-race family, and I liked seeing those dynamics as much as I enjoyed seeing him in the weeds. It's hard to dislike a man who loves his momma. There's a strong theme of family relationships throughout the book, whether it's Lucas and his family, the young man who helps him and his absentee mother, or the father & son crime duo.
I think one of Pelecanos's strengths is his ability to create complex characters, and Spero Lucas is one I am anxious to read more about.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2011
Sometimes I wonder how book deals impact an author's work. Pelecanos' last three-book deal, which included "The Night Gardener," "The Turnaround," and "The Way Home," started off with a bang ("Gardener" may be his best book) and then ended up with a whimper (literally, in the almost unreadable sop story that was "Home"). I wondered if Pelecanos had lost his way and wondered if this really could be the same guy who wrote the epic DC Quartet.
Pelecanos now returns at the start of a new three-book deal with "The Cut," an excellent character-driven crime novel set in Washington. This book succeeds because its characters are vivid, the plot is linear, and the prose is sparse. There are no wasted words or actions, but all of the characters are fully formed and compelling. One example of this is that Ricardo Holley might be Pelecanos' greatest creation since T.C. Hook. In all fairness to Spero Lucas, Holley helps drive this story). There also are no cheap ploys, but there is moral ambiguity and tension between family members. Because of this, the ending leaves one shaken as much as Lucas is shaken. Few writers have the power to do this as well as Pelecanos when he is on his game.
Here, the author is on his game. Pelecanos' recent work, and this being such a great read, means my only fear is that this book will lead to two other books that get progressively worse.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2011
With The Cut Pelecanos begins a new series with a whole new protagonist, Spero Lucas. Lucas is a recently returned veteran of the war in Iraq who freelances as an investigator for a defense attorney in D.C. The skills he learned in the Marines are now serving him well as specializes in recovering lost or stolen property for owners willing to pay considerably for his services.
But it's not just little old ladies who have lost their jewelry that Lucas is willing to work for. His abilities have also gained him the attention of one of the largest drug dealers in the District. Someone has been disrupting his network by stealing shipments of marijuana and he wants Lucas to find out who is doing it and recover either the drugs or the money they were worth. Tempted by the opportunity for a huge payday, Lucas takes the job and in a very short time becomes involved in something much bigger than he anticipated.
Once again, Pelecanos shows why many of his contemporaries consider him the best writer in this genre. With Lucas, he's created another protagonist who lives in the real world, where right and wrong are shades of grey rather than the black or white we'd hope them to be.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2011
I love Pelecanos's work--but somehow Spero Lucas doesn't quite grab me the way Nick Stefanos did, or Derek Strange, or Gus Ramone. That said, it's typical Pelecanos genius to update his oeuvre by making an Iraq War vet the protagonist of a new series. Some of the story threads (i.e. the romance with the lawyer's intern) seemed forced and I didn't sense the natural flow of a "Shoedog" or a "King Suckerman" not to mention his best "The Wire" work. But Pelecanos to me in fiction is what Charles Mingus in music is. A mediocre Mingus record was better than the best record of 98% of other musicians. Pelecanos I hold in the same esteem. As always, looking forward to whatever he does next.