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The Double (Spero Lucas) Hardcover – October 8, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
Reviewed by Patrick Millikin Pelecanos's novels have always kept one eye toward the recent past—a constant touchstone being the 1970s. The decade's popular culture, its fashion, film, music, and automobiles inform novels such as Hard Revolution, King Suckerman, and What It Was, which are set during one of the most tumultuous periods in the nation's history. In a way, all the novels that Pelecanos has written have been influenced by the Vietnam War. Now Pelecanos, a producer of The Wire and Treme who's also written for both HBO shows, has given us a new series that brings us right up to the present. With Spero Lucas, introduced in 2011's The Cut, Pelecanos has created one of his finest, and most complex, protagonists. An Iraq War combat veteran, Lucas has seen more than his share of death, but, unlike many of his returning peers, he has found work that allows him to tap into the heightened levels of adrenaline that were awakened overseas. His primary gig is as investigator for D.C. defense attorney Tom Petersen, who gives him a difficult case at the outset of this sequel to The Cut. A client, Calvin Bates, faces the death penalty for the first-degree murder of his mistress, Edwina Christian, whose body has been discovered in a nearby wooded area. Inconsistencies in the case, including physical evidence at the crime scene, have Lucas convinced that the story might not be as cut-and-dried as it appears. In the meantime, Lucas has found himself another side job, the retrieval of a stolen painting called The Double from a young divorcée's condo. His usual terms apply: 40% of the stolen item's value, in cash, no questions asked. The trail leads Lucas to a trio of thugs working together on various criminal enterprises: a Russian Internet scammer, a sociopathic lothario preying upon vulnerable women, and a young ex-con and former tweaker. As Lucas follows the various strands of his investigation, he finds himself enjoying the hunt, the prospect of violence that will result as he lures his quarry into the open, and the inevitable confrontation. Indeed, the painting itself becomes an apt metaphor for Lucas's life: the €œcivilized,€ outward identity and the darker shadow self, containing a primal warrior side that, as Pelecanos writes, he doesn't fully understand. While several of his most trusted friends, fellow Marines, have been able to leave the violence in them behind, Lucas has been unable to do so. Further complicating matters is a gorgeous, unavailable married woman, with whom Lucas has fallen into a passionate affair. At the background of the novel is Lucas's own family, his mixed-race siblings, his Greek-American parents. Pelecanos puts the race issue out there, but doesn't focus on it; the Lucases are simply a family, and a loving one. With respect for D.C.'s past on one side, and a vibrant, youthful new protagonist looking squarely into the future, this is the start of a remarkable series. Longtime Pelecanos diehards will be more than satisfied, and new readers will find themselves jonesing for more. Agent: Sloan Harris, ICM. (Oct.) Patrick Millikin is the editor of the Akashic anthology Phoenix Noir .
*Starred Review* Pelecanos fans who found in The Cut (2011) a return to the classic crime-fiction style of the author’s terrific Nick Stefanos novels will be doubly pleased with The Double: not only does it deliver another straight-ahead, head-banging, yet still character-focused crime story, but it also heralds the return of Spero Lucas, the Travis McGee–like knight errant who helps out clients who have lost something and keeps 40 percent of the take (McGee kept half). This time Spero comes to the aid of a fortysomething D.C. woman with bad taste in men; her latest wrong choice has robbed her of a valuable painting and her self-respect. Spero agrees to get the former back, and perhaps even a touch of the latter, but he quickly discovers that his antagonist, a sociopath who loves humiliating his victims more than he covets their possessions, will present a formidable obstacle and require the kind of Old West confrontation that Spero loves in spite of himself. In a kind of homage not only to John D. MacDonald (especially The Deep Blue Good-by) but also to Charles Willeford and Don Carpenter (all three are mentioned in the acknowledgments), Pelecanos reinterprets and updates the theme of the charismatic sociopath who revels in draining the souls of his willing victims, bringing a heightened sensitivity and social consciousness to the story without losing the visceral terror that drives the narrative. Those who know their crime-fiction history will love the references to earlier masters, but, finally, it’s Pelecanos with a new series up and running hard that’s the real cause for celebration here. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Pelecanos’ television credits—first for The Wire and currently for Treme—have extended the reach of his fame; to capitalize on that, Little, Brown is planning an extensive multimedia publicity campaign, --Bill Ott
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A few reviewers have noticed that Spero Lucas is a little more cliched than many Pelecanos heroes. I certainly found the 'irresistible to women' gimmick both repetitive and annoying. However, it's really the only thing to knock in this book. I thought the comparison of Lucas to Jack Reacher to be a huge...well, reach. Lee Child's super spare, stripped down dialogue in his Reacher books is nothing like Pelecanos. Compare the dialog between Lucas, his adopted brother and their mother in The Double. There's more dialogue in that scene than there is in an entire Jack Reacher novel.
Reacher is a clever construction where plot dominates and characters are paper thin constructions. That's never true of Pelecanos.
Great airplane read and heads and tales above 90% of this genre.
I think that being a writer would take a great deal of imagination and energy which was a trademark of the authors books a number of years ago and since he commenced writing for TV, he has been a little rushed in his work.
This novel gives us a look at Spero Lucas, a young man (31) who is getting used to civilian life where he wants the excitement that he has in the armed forces. As such, he will take chances to get that adrenaline rush, whether it is riding his bike, chasing women or doing dangerous jobs where he places his life in danger repeatedly.
The characters in this novel are many and varied but not that interesting. The mark of a great crime novel is the ability to relate to the bad guys and then see the good guy win in the end. This did not happen as the characters were fairly generic and in some cases not realistic (realism is Mr Pelecano's greatest strength).
Would I continue to buy Pelecanos books? Yes, without any question but I do yearn to return to the great old days of his work.
The adopted son of Greek immigrants, Lucas is 28. He is an ex-Marine haunted by his experiences of door-to-door fighting in Fallujah who has returned to his hometown of Washington DC, where he has managed to recapture some of the thrill he felt as a fighter by hiring himself out as an "investigator" who specializes in finding lost things -- such things as marijuana stolen from a dealer, as in the first novel featuring Spero Lucas, or, in The Double, a painting stolen from a woman's home. This is Lucas' real work, since his cut of the value of recovered property is 40% and what he recovers is invariably high-priced. However, he identifies himself as an investigator for a criminal lawyer -- apparently, a lawyer who defends criminals, not one who is a crook himself -- as the identity is useful even if the pay is meager.
As Lucas sets out to recover the stolen painting, a work titled "The Double," he stumbles across a small criminal gang guilty of numerous other thefts and swindles. White getting closer to the gang by working his police contacts, he becomes embroiled in two murder investigations, one for the attorney and the other for his older brother, a schoolteacher. Lucas manages to resolve all three cases more or less satisfactorily but not without an immoderate degree of violence. The Double was not written for children or nervous cardiac patients, so be forewarned.
Last year I was equally enthusiastic in my review of Pelecanos' debut novel about Spero Lucas, The Cut. George Pelecanos is, simply, one of the very best ever to convey the reality of our cities' streets to those of us who remain distant from it.
Spero himself denies the impact that the war has had on him personally but begins to come to terms with the damage as he deals with one violent case after another.
This book contains at least one Pelecanos lecture. Spero and one of his buddies who is also a veteran talk about the great seats and the standing ovations they get a sports events. They wonder why none of these folks (in expensive seats that they paid a lot for) ever comes over to get to know them better and learn more about them as individuals.
I also admire the way in which Pelecanos makes his dead father a character in this series. Spero often thinks back to early family life and this fits as one Pelecanos' recurrent themes is the importance of a man in a child's life.
This book contains all the hallmarks of a Pelecanos novel: tight prose, lots of suspense, a plot that delivers something deeper than what's on the surface and lots of music.
I look forward to more books in this series.