The Cut by George Pelecanos

12904753Fiction — print. Reagan Arthur, 2011. 292 pgs. Purchased.

After returning from serving overseas in Iraq, Spiro Lucas has built a business for himself as a “finder” in Washington D.C. Attorneys, criminals, and the occasional average citizen hire him to locate stolen possession in exchange for a substantial cut of the item’s value — forty percent. The large finder’s fee assures his clients of his Lucas’ discretion and allows the ex-Marine to avoid dealing with the difficulty of reintegrating into civilian society.

Theoretically, the arrangement should allow  Lucas to take on the cases that interest him most or tug on his heartstrings. (He started down this line of work after meeting a woman in a bar whose ex-boyfriend stole jewelry she inherited.) Yet the teenage boy that Lucas just helped get off a car theft charge on technically turns out to be the son of a major drug trafficker, and daddy dearest refuses to take no for an answer.

The case? A number of packages containing weed used in Anwan Hawkins’ drug ring have been stolen off the porches of unsuspecting homeowners working 9 to 5 before his runners can retrieve them. If Lucas recovers the packages, he’ll get a forty percent of the marijuana’s street value — the biggest payday of Lucas’ short career — and a sort of get-out-of-jail card from one of D.C.’s notorious crime bosses.

Lucas takes the job and begins his investigation getting to know Hawkins’ two runners and interviewing residents of a neighborhood near the high school where his adopted brother teaches. But, of course, things begin to go horribly wrong and bodies begin stacking up in the D.C. morgue threatening the lives of Lucas’ brother, mother, girlfriend, and Lucas, himself.

The departure from the typical detective characterization is what I appreciated most about Pelecanos’ novel. Lucas has the required family problems — his father died while he was overseas, his relationships with his siblings are strained — but he also rides around D.C. on a bicycle and attends church with his mother regularly. He shies away from dive bars with the exception of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, tries to help his fellow vets get back on their feet, and reads widely and veraciously. His internal battles, thus, feel more organic, and continually morph, change, and react as his circumstances change unlike another favorite investigator of mine who never seems to change from case to case.

The novel also provides an insider’s look to the District of Columbia. I lived briefly in the area and recognized a number of streets and neighborhoods visited by Lucas. The feeling, the sights and sounds of these areas were perfectly captured, and I felt like I was cycling along Rock Creek side-by-side with Lucas.  (There were a number of areas visited by Lucas during the seedier parts of his investigation that I didn’t recognize reflecting the socioeconomic divide and racist-driven feelings of “safety” in the district.)

The sole drawback to the novel was how quickly I figured out the big twist to the plot, and I thought it was rather obvious for how slowly it took Lucas to reach the same conclusion. The rest of the novel — the characters, especially — were enough to keep my high esteem of Pelecanos’ novel, and I’d happily pick up the next book in the series or another penned by this offer. One of the rare instances where grabbing a book solely because of its connection to a favorite television show (“The Wire”, in this case) paid off.

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