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Onyx reviews: The Cut
by George Pelecanos
Spero Lucas, the protagonist of The Cut, is a modern version of John D.
MacDonald's Travis McGee. He lives in D.C. instead of Florida, and in a house
not on a houseboat, but his occupational philosophy is similar. When someone takes something
from someone else, he offers to get it back, keeping a 40% cut (hence the book's
title) for himself. That's a bargain—McGee used to keep half.
Spero's background is fascinating. Though his name sounds like he's another of
Pelecanos's Greek characters, he isn't. He was adopted by a Greek couple,
who assigned him a Greek name. The couple had four children, three adopted, including Leo, who is
black—though that fact doesn't become apparent for quite a while. Their daughter is distant and
uncommunicative, and their first adopted son caused them no end of heartbreak, but
Leo and Spero turned out to be nearly ideal children.
is a former Marine who spent time in Fallujah. When he's not on a personal
mission, he does freelance detective work for a D.C. lawyer. He obsessively documents crime scenes or places of interest through
sketches in his notebook and photos on his iPhone. This information often turns
out be valuable to his clients in unexpected ways.
He knows the
streets of Washington, D.C. and can traverse them with ease either in his car or
on his bike. His experience in Iraq has
made him handy with a gun and impatient with stupidity. He missed out on college, but he's smart and finding
his own way in the world. He's physically fit, takes
his kayak out frequently, and has the ability to charm women without significant
effort. Like most of Pelecanos's characters, he is a devotee of music and food. He can hold his own
in a conversation with film buffs and is an avid reader. He drinks in
moderation, smokes a joint every now and then. He is devoted to
his brother and mother (his father is dead, a still-open wound). When he requires
assistants or specialized skills, he has old war buddies on speed dial who can
deliver what he needs. Though he occasionally accepts work from questionable clients, his moral compass still
points firmly north.
His latest gig sound simple
enough: he is asked to retrieve a 40-pound box that was stolen from a porch. Turns out, the package contained marijuana and the dealers were using the
house—unoccupied during the daytime—as a blind drop. Fed-Ex would
deliver it and two men following the shipper's progress via online tracking would
scoop it up before the homeowner returned. It's a good enough plan until someone beats them
to the punch.
The drugs, worth $130,000, belonged to Anwan Hawkins, in
jail awaiting trial on trafficking charges but still running his operation
from behind bars. Spero is on Anwan's radar after his attention to detail
got Anwan's son released after a car theft bust.
Spero thinks the two men who lost
the drugs, Tavon Lynch and Edwin Davis, know more than they're willing to admit.
The neighbors aren't of much help, but Spero has been around the
block enough to know that someone saw something. One of the potential witnesses
is a student in Spero's brother Leo's English class. Soon he's involved in a complex
plot involving corrupt police officers and a couple of stone cold killers—one
white, one black—who will stop at nothing to protect their operation. The
first victims are Tavon and Edwin, but they won't be the last.
Almost every Pelecanos novel ends with a violent confrontation between
the hero and the villains, and The Cut is no exception. The bad guys are
so willing to go to extreme measures that Spero knows there's no way he can
simply walk away from the situation. He knows too much, and the bad guys know he
does. Then, once all the blood has been spilled, Spero discovers that he knew
far less about the situation than he realized and his "cut,"
substantial though it seems to be, probably wasn't worth it after all.
As an epilog, the book contains a short story, "Chosen," which fills in the
backstory of Spero's parents. It's more of a vignette than a story, but it
reveals two charming characters that Pelecanos couldn't fit into the novel.
ThoughThe Cut is, perhaps, a more superficial novel than some of
Pelecanos's recent works, it is a taut thriller with sufficient stakes to keep
readers turning the pages. It's
clear that he cares deeply about this family and it probably means that more books
featuring Spero are forthcoming, perhaps even a crossover with his other series
character, Derek Strange, whose offices Spero encounters while sketching one of
his crime scenes.
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