George Pelecanos is a talented, versatile writer with 19 novels crowding the mystery shelves of most bookstores. When he’s not devoting his time to gritty, Washington, D.C.-based noir, Pelecanos turns his attention to the small screen. He earned an Emmy nomination for his work on HBO’s The Wire and currently writes and produces HBO’s Treme. His latest book, The Double (Little, Brown and Company, $26), is the second entry in his Spero Lucas series, which he launched with The Cut (2011). The Double is pure Pelecanos, with equal measures of violence, intelligence and travelogue. Casual readers should have no qualms about diving into this second installment; Pelecanos provides plenty of backstory without sacrificing any suspense or plot twists.
Spero Lucas is an Iraq War veteran who works as an investigator for defense attorney Tom Petersen. When he’s not scouring D.C. for clues to Petersen’s cases, Spero has a side gig recovering stolen merchandise for a variety of clients. His fee is 40 percent of the missing object’s value. Spero has his hands full in The Double. In addition to researching the case against Petersen’s client Calvin Bates, a married man accused of murdering his girlfriend, Edwina Christian, Spero also accepts a job from Grace Kinkaid, a divorcee who hopes to recover a $200,000 painting she lost in a scam perpetrated by an ex-boyfriend. As Spero digs deeper, he finds three men standing in the way of his payday.
On the surface, Spero is an uncomplicated character. He’s an outstanding physical specimen, irresistible to women and intimidating to men. He bikes and kayaks all over town, he’s got disposable income and he can handle himself in a fight. Making Spero a war veteran was a canny move by Pelecanos; he’s given Spero some invisible combat scars and the chance to interact with wounded veterans and former soldiers. Spero has all the skills and baggage that come with a military career. He follows orders but has his own well-developed sense of justice.
Spero is also the adopted son of Greek-Americans, raised in a mixed-race household. Spero’s older brother, Demetrius, is a criminal. Another brother, Leo, is a high school teacher. Family is important to Spero, which makes things complicated when he starts dating a married woman.
As always, Washington, D.C. is a vital part of Pelecanos’ work. Dashiell Hammett wrote about San Francisco, Raymond Chandler had Los Angeles, and Florida had John D. MacDonald. Pelecanos provides readers with a guided tour of D.C., complete with local history and restaurant recommendations. Plus, he can’t resist plugging his favorite writers and musicians in his novels. In addition to the authors Pelecanos namechecks in The Double, he formally acknowledges the influence of MacDonald, Charles Willeford and Don Carpenter.
The Double isn’t my favorite book by Pelecanos, but it’s certainly a cut above standard mystery fare. Satisfied readers should seek out some of Pelecanos’ Nick Stefanos novels or any titles in his “D.C. Quartet” series. ★★★☆☆
[ I Want That Book! ]
What’s on our reviewer’s radar …
I’m already excited about Wes Anderson’s new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which doesn’t open until March. To tide me over while I wait, I want The Wes Anderson Collection (Harry N. Abrams, $40) by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz. It’s a lavish and loving tribute to the idiosyncratic director, loaded with pictures, essays and interviews on every Anderson film from Bottle Rocket to Moonrise Kingdom.