Current reviews
  Reviews by title
  Reviews by author

  Contact Onyx

  Discussion forum


Onyx reviews: The Double by George Pelecanos

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. 

Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent 2013. All rights reserved