Saturday, 8 October 2011

George Pelecanos - The Cut

 George Pelecanos’s latest novel The Cut introduces a new character Spero Lucas. I really hope it is the first of a new series featuring this character because as usual with Pelecanos he has produced another fascinating creation.

Lucas is an investigator of sorts, working mainly for defence attorney Tom Petersen. However he also takes on occasional side work, often working in the shadowy boundaries of the law, which immediately increases the potential for trouble in Lucas’s life. This potential is realised when Lucas takes on a job for an incarcerated drug dealer, who happens to be one of Petersen’s clients. Hired ostensibly to find out who has stolen a drug package, the job inevitably goes bad, quickly. Two of the drug dealer’s soldiers are brutally murdered and Lucas is suddenly thrust into a violent world which threatens to drag in his family and other innocent people Lucas comes into contact with. Things get significantly worse when Lucas is assaulted and kills his attacker.

Lucas is now in a position which can only lead to two outcomes. Either he kills the other people involved in the operation or he will inevitably be killed himself, and harm could come to the people closest to him as well. There is an unexpected twist at the end of the book and justice is ultimately served in a round about way, giving a certain sense satisfaction for the reader.

As mentioned above, Spero Lucas is a really interesting character. He is flawed, as many of Pelecanos’s characters are, but not in a clichéd way. His flaws make him more real. Lucas is presented as a respectful, generous man with a strong moral code. However as the book progresses these traits are brought into question. For instance we are left to question whether it was necessary for Lucas to kill the man who attacks him, when he could easily have used his military training to disarm the man. This is something Lucas questions himself, but not agonisingly. I think he ultimately accepts it as a consequence of the life he has chosen for himself.

Lucas is a young man who has been forced to grow up fast by his time in the military. As he says towards the end of the book, “I missed out on the good part of my twenties. When everyone else was in college, going to parties and whatever, being young, I was in the desert.” This is the most he has spoken about his time in the war but it is clearly such a huge event in his life which colours everything he now does. He’s trying to find his place in the world and he makes mistakes along the way, but he is trying to do the right thing.

He spends time with his family – his aging mother Eleni and his adopted brother Leo. Spero is also adopted, which gives a nice dynamic to his relationship with his white brother and their Greek mother. The paradox of his life is that he is trying to protect the people dear to him but his work inevitably brings them close to danger and violence. 

The themes of family values, life choices and the importance of education, both scholarly and street based, are familiar ones Pelecanos often revisits. They are themes well worth revisiting because, as usual, they yield gold-dust prose and dialogue here.

The familiar tropes of music, film, books, food, sex, clothes and cars are also present in The Cut. It never fails to amaze me how easy Pelecanos makes it to imagine yourself in the story. The sights, smells and sounds of Spero Lucas’s world leap off the pages, freeing themselves from their confines of paper and ink and assaulting the readers’ senses. You are immediately there, living and breathing the world he has created.

I have read and enjoyed every book Pelecanos has written so far, and for my money he is one of the best writers around today, in any genre. The Cut is no exception. I loved this book and I loved the new characters it introduces. I hope to see more of them very soon. 

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