Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Bastard Son of Travis McGee - George Pelecanos' Spero Lucas

While he only takes 40% of the recovered property rather than half, Spero Lucas seems to be the spiritual successor to John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee character, transporting the salvage consultant concept from the seedy underbelly of Florida to the mean streets of Washington DC.  The fact that Spero Lucas is adopted could make him the actual bastard son of Travis McGee rather than just a figurative one.

The CutThe Cut by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When an imprisoned drug dealer hires Spero Lucas to find out who's been stealing his product, Spero takes the case. Can Spero recover the stolen weed and collect his forty percent?

The Cut is a breezy crime tale that reads as smoothly as an Elmore Leonard. Pelecanos makes Washington DC as much of a character as Leonard does with Detroit and Miami. Spero Lucas is a compelling lead, an ex-marine who works as an investigator. The drug case he's taken quickly spirals out of control. However, the case wasn't as interesting to me as Spero himself.

Spero's a complicated man and no one understands him but his woman. Or maybe I'm thinking of someone else. At any rate, I liked the idea of an Iraq war veteran who's having trouble adjusting to normal life. His tastes in food and Jamaican music further endeared him to me. The guys he goes up against are pretty well drawn as well, particularly the Holley family. Pelecanos' bad guys have relatively reasonable motivations and come off as real people rather than caricatures.

One thing I really liked was that Spero's brother is an English teacher and has his students read crime books, like Richard Stark's The Hunter and Unknown Man #89 by Elmore Leonard. That's a class I would have loved taking back in the day. Spero listening to Ernest Ranglin and King Tubby also sweetened the deal the for me.

That's about all I have to say. If I had to complain about something, it would be that I wanted the book to be about twice as long. I'll be reading more Pelecanos in the near future.

The DoubleThe Double by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While trying to clear a man for the murder of his mistress, Spero Lucas takes on another case, the case of a painting stolen by a woman's former lover. Further complicating things is a love affair Spero is having with a married woman. Can Spero recover The Double and survive his new lady love with his health intact?

First, the official business. I got this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for reviewing it. This new Kindle is quickly paying for itself.

The first Spero Lucas book, The Cut, was also my first George Pelecanos. Since then, I've read the Nick Stefanos trilogy and the first two books in the DC Quartet. Pelecanos really does like his heroes damaged, doesn't he?

As in the first book, Spero Lucas is a Gulf War vet with some trouble adjusting to civilian life. He makes his living recovering stolen property for people in exchange for 40% of the value. The Double, the painting of the title, will net him 80 large should he manage to recover it. That's a thick slice of pizza. The addition of his love affair with Charlotte really sets this one above most other detective stories. When a ladies man like Spero falls for a woman, he falls hard. I found myself empathizing with him while he was waiting for her to call him.

The villains of the piece, Billy Hunter and his cronies, were reprehensible pieces of garbage and I couldn't wait for Spero to catch up with them. The thing that keeps this from becoming a mindless actionfest is that Spero has a lot of soul searching moments and a lot more baggage from his time as a marine than originally displayed. Not that he can't dish out the violence. The final fist fight in this one is among the most brutal I've ever read.

The Double was a little lighter on musical references but it still hit all the sweet spots for me and my unconventional tastes, namely Ernest Ranglin and numerous mentions of dub records. I like that Pelecanos brought back much of the supporting cast of the first book. I'll be sad once he starts picking them off.

To sum up, I liked this just as much as the The Cut. It's top notch and I'm reading for another Spero Lucas novel. Get writing, George!

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