THE CUT by George Pelecanos — a Review

As someone who lives in the DC area and is a fan of HBO’s “The Wire,” I felt I had to pick up a George Pelecanos book at some point. I decided to start with THE CUT because it was one of his latest, and it was the first book to introduce a new protagonist, Spero Lucas. It seemed like a good place to start. While I might read another George Pelecanos book in the future, I don’t know if it will be a Spero Lucas book. THE CUT is interesting, and it moves at a brisk pace, but I never felt like Spero Lucas was in any real danger, and the ending was a bit of a letdown.

Spero Lucas is a twenty-something former Marine who, after serving time in Iraq, is now working as an investigator for a criminal defense attorney. Because that job only pays $15/hour, he takes side jobs: namely, recovering stolen property for 40% of the value–the nominal cut.

One of his boss’s clients is in jail awaiting trial on drug charges. He asks Spero Lucas to recover some stolen marijuana for him or the cash the thief has made from selling it. Tempted by the potentially huge payday, Spero Lucas takes the job, but it forces him to confront a group of thieves, gangsters, crooked cops, and hitmen.

Like many George Pelecanos books, THE CUT features a lot of DC-specific landmarks and details. While it certainly gives the book a sense of authenticity, some of the name drops were heavy-handed and seemed to serve no other purpose than advertising for local restaurants or for DC natives to think to themselves, “Hey, I know where that is!”

As for Spero Lucas himself, if THE CUT is supposed to be a real-world story, I didn’t buy Lucas as a real-world character. Every woman wants to sleep with him. When he’s not doing recon of a crime scene, he’s biking, kayaking, or working out. Perhaps the only exception is when he gets back to the story at hand and starts fighting bad guys or busting down doors like he never left the Marines. I’m fine with that sort of action–in fact, I would expect it in a book like this–but I never got the sense that Lucas was in any real danger, even during the climactic shootout. He’s kind of a boring guy who emerges unscathed. What’s the point? Even the twist ending felt nonsensical and tacked on. By the time we get to the epilogue chapter, I was bored.

I will say that George Pelecanos has a definite talent for writing sparsely and cleanly, and his dialogue is top notch. I think I will eventually read another George Pelecanos book in the future, but when it comes to Spero Lucas, it’s one and done for me.