George Pelecanos’ THE DOUBLE is the second title in his new series featuring Spero Lucas, the former Marine now working as an unlicensed private investigator both for an attorney and on his own. Although noticeably more somber than last year’s debut, THE CUT, this latest novel allows us to know Lucas better and learn what motivates him.
Lucas is in the middle of tracking down evidence and suspects in murder trial for his Washington, D.C.-based attorney employer. While off the clock, a bartender friend gives him a lead for a side job. A woman named Grace Kinkaid has had a painting stolen by her ex-boyfriend and wants it back. Lucas agrees to find the ex-boyfriend and return the painting — from which the book takes its title — only after Grace agrees to pay Lucas his usual cut after the artwork is sold.
He discovers that the ex is part of a small band of violent thugs who pull off several quick-cash jobs before blowing their current residence. Before long, what seemed like a simple job turns into a potentially dangerous mission.
Lucas’ experiences and memories as an Iraqi war veteran are more prevalent here than in the previous novel. It’s how he chooses those he enlists to help him when needed and occupies a lot of his off-hours as he regularly visits wounded veterans at a nearby hospital and hangs out with other vets at a local VA center bar.
We soon understand that these same experiences drive Lucas in his work and, in a larger sense, define him. He quickly dismisses those concerned that he is something of a ticking time bomb, but he also realizes that being a vet is why violence and, when necessary, killing come easier for him than most others he knows. THE DOUBLE is not just the name of the stolen painting, but a metaphor for his life.
This gives this second series narrative an undeniably darker tone. Enhancing this darkness is a steamy, passionate affair Lucas carries on with a beautiful woman he meets at the bar where he was given the tip about the Grace Kinkaid job. The woman is married and tells him upfront that she will never leave the security her husband provides. But the more time Lucas spends with her, the more obsessed with her he become — until he knows he must make an important and painful decision.
Yet in the midst of all this darkness, we find all of Pelecanos usual stylistic trademarks. There’s the attention to clothes, especially men’s fashion; to cars and other modes of transportation; references to well-known and more esoteric rock music and musicians; and the recommended listing of crime and Western books and authors. Plus, there is the razor-sharp, dead-on street dialogue and contemporary slang that forms the author’s descriptions of D.C. and its surrounding areas, and much of Lucas’ inner thoughts.
The shifting between the two main cases that dominate the novel can be confusing at times, and often threatens to slow the narrative tempo. Fortunately, Lucas’ quietly bull-headed determination gets us past these speed bumps, as each assignment is carried through to a surprising, explosive conclusion.
Crime-fiction readers already know that Pelecanos is one of the finest practitioners working today. With Spero Lucas, the novelist has found a series character strong enough to lead several more entries, as well as carry on the series traditions Pelecanos began with his earlier novels featuring Nick Stefanos and later carried on in the excellent works staring P.I. Derek Strange.
Like any novel carrying Pelecanos’ name, THE DOUBLE comes most highly recommended. —Alan Cranis