Written by George Pelecanos — Famed for his screenwriting on The Wire, and for novels such as Hard Revolution and The Night Gardener, George Pelecanos is one of the dominant crime fiction authors in the United States, and beyond. His latest creation is Spero Lucas, who was introduced in The Cut. A former marine , he’s now using some of the skills he developed fighting in Iraq as a private investigator. One of his specialties is recovering valuable items that have fallen into the wrong hands.
The Double opens with Lucas taking on two cases in his home city of Washington DC. One is to gather some evidence for a defense lawyer whose client is standing trial for the murder of a teenage girl. By finding a few clues relating to the vehicle used at the crime scene, the girl’s boyfriend and other contacts, the location and the timeline of the actual murder, he might be able to help the lawyer at least generate some reasonable doubt amongst the jury.
However his main case is to recover a painting stolen from Grace Kinkaid, who is a friend of a friend. Grace likes her wine and has notoriously poor taste in men and had hooked up with a big blonde guy who treated her badly before, one day, disappearing with her painting. With two men in the painting, one in the light and one in the dark, it’s called The Double.
Soon Lucas has worked out that Billy King was operating with a couple of other petty hoods – Serge, a monobrow Russian, and a stoner called Louis. They’ve been pulling off minor robberies and some internet scams, faking car sales taking the client’s money but never delivering the vehicle.
In between drawing out the three hoods, and tracing the movements of the murdered girl’s boyfriend, he starts an affair with a married woman who works as a lobbyist. He’s hooked on Charlotte, but as his brother Leo warns him, there’s no future in it. So he smokes some weed, listens to obscure reggae and rock, goes canoeing and visits some of his veteran buddies, some of whom will be useful as point men when he sets up a confrontation with Billy King’s gang. Others help him get some guns, night vision goggles, cars and so forth.
Trouble is, the ins and outs of Spero Lucas’ life are poured on too thickly. The tracks he listens to, the dive bar menus, the brand of every drink he sips, and almost every intersection he passes through during his investigation – they’re all listed but have little relevance to the story.
However, the dialogue is crisp and the plot well set out. The Double builds to a violent climax in some woods on the fringes of the city. Spero Lucas finds striking first easy, and Pelacanos writes his action scenes extremely well. His work is full of detail, yet these passages snap along well and the violence seems worryingly real. A dark side to Lucas comes to the fore – like the dark half in that painting – and because he’s so direct more people get hurt than necessary. Maybe there are psychological scars left by his time in Iraq.
Years ago, writers like Mickey Spillane entertained a generation of young GIs who’d come back from World War II to find the freedom they fought for was a little more mundane than they expected. Work, women and life in general were all frustrating, but at least they could read a Mike Hammer novel now and again. Spero is like Hammer for today’s young men. The writing even has a pulpy, direct and masculine edge to it, just with modern diction.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars