Onyx reviews: The Double by George
The Double starts out like a Travis McGee novel by John D. MacDonald.
Spero Lucas is hired by a woman to recover a painting that was taken from her by
a sexual predator. Like McGee, Lucas does jobs like this for a percentage. McGee
took half; Lucas settles for a mere 40% of the value of the recovered object.
The victim is pure MacDonald, a woman who has been worn down and destroyed by a
brutal man who took everything from her. The painting is the only thing she
could ever hope to recover.
The similarities to MacDonald end there. Lucas is cut from different cloth
than Trav McGee. He's younger, a veteran of the Iraq war. He has a good
relationship with his brother, who is also adopted, and his mother. He works as
an investigator for a lawyer when he isn't doing something else. His near-manic
attention to detail usually allows him to turn up evidence everyone else
overlooked. He smokes dope, is a bit of a beer snob, bicycles more often than he
drives, and likes to kayak. He knows a lot about music, and about the geography
and history of the area around the nation's capital. He can handle just about
any kind of weapon.
While he's trying to find information that will either get his lawyer boss's
client off for murder, or at least cast reasonable doubt, he also begins his
quest for "The Double," a painting that has appreciated in value
because of recent interest in the artist. Lucas's cut will be a cool $80 grand
if he can recover it.
The trail is pretty cold. He doesn't even have the predator's real name.
However, he thinks there may be a connection to a Craig's List ad scam involving
the sale of a Mini Cooper. He uses that to flush out an oddly matched trio of
ripoff artists who are
preying on a variety of victims in the area.
A lot of people are worried about Lucas. Many of his contemporaries came
back from the Middle East suffering from PTSD and depression, and a
significant number are committing suicide. His friends are concerned that
Lucas's bravado is a cover. His shaky condition leaves him vulnerable to the
allure of a married woman he meets in a bar, with whom he embarks on an
ill-advised but torrid affair. He doesn't
see the parallels with the relationship that got his client in trouble, nor is
it clear that he recognizes himself in the subject matter of the
painting he's trying to recover.
Pelecanos's novels almost always build toward a violent confrontation between
his protagonist and the bad guys. Blood will be spilled and bones broken. The
good guys will usually come out on top, but only barely, and often at great
cost. The battle scenes are well crafted and move along at a breathtaking pace.
While his books tend to be lean and sparse, they are heavier on description
than, say, Elmore Leonard's. Pelecanos is fond of the D.C. area and its changing
face, taking every opportunity to drop in geographic or social commentary as
Lucas traverses the city. He also tends to describe in great detail what everyone
wears. However, they are thoughtful stories
that explore the violence that men do.
If there's a flaw in The Double,
it arises from the fact that Lucas is a flawed character. He does something
toward the end of the book that puts his client at risk, something that he
should have anticipated but doesn't. Readers may cringe at his thoughtlessness,
but Lucas isn't as strong or as invincible as many characters of his ilk. He
came back from overseas without any physical wounds, and he may try to convince
others that he's okay, but he isn't. Not really.
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