I Want My Cut
George Pelecanos is pretty boss – I’m just sayin’. Whenever I read one of his books, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how insane it is that no one else seems to be reading them. What’s wrong with everyone?
Pelecanos is perhaps the most underrated writer in crime fiction these days, existing in that same “mean streets” limbo as the equally brilliant Richard Price. His main claim to fame these days – since he tends to have more fans who are critics & dorks like me, rather than cash-carrying book buyers – is his work as a writer and producer on HBO’s acclaimed series, The Wire and currently, writer on the same network’s Treme. (Interestingly enough, Price also wrote for The Wire.) My line here, basically, is if you’ve watched The Wire or read crime novels, you really need to be reading George Pelecanos. Really.
There is an efficiency of prose in GP’s writing that I especially appreciate. There is no mincing of words, no flowery stylings. No bullshit. Every word, sentence, paragraph, is measured out carefully and methodically so as to have maximum impact & not waste my time. In The Cut – the first in a new series – Pelecanos introduces Spero Lucas, an ex-Marine, pretty fresh from Fallujah, who works as an investigator for a DC defense attorney, specializing in the recovery of lost property. This specialization brings him in contact with some of he seedier elements in town – in this case Mr. Anwan Hawkins, currently incarcerated by the District of Columbia – who hires Spero to find out who’s been stealing his packages of drugs from their drop points. (Anwan has a system where packages are FedEx-ed to unsuspecting homes while people are away at work, then his minions collect from the porch after delivery. Someone’s been removing packages without Anwan’s approval.) Spero’s a good man, really, so the moral line he’s treading with this work is, well, delicate. But he’s a stone cold bad ass.
Now Lucas was just a couple of yards away from the man. They stood in the center of the lot. It was like a basketball court where they had to jump for possession. Or the center circle of a wrestling mat.
“You know your Bible?” said the man.
Lucas did not answer. He stayed focused on the man’s lidless eyes.
“John, Eleven-Ten. ‘But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him'”
“Not this man,” said Lucas.
The hyper-efficiency of Pelecanos’ prose works well for a character like Spero, who turns out to be too methodical and driven to stumble into mistakes. He never gets hurt, punched, shot, stabbed, surprised. (Even while stomping the Bible-verse-spouting loser in the above scene.) Yet, he does end up embroiled in a much bigger, messier morass of violence and criminality that he ever anticipated. Fueled by Pelecanos’ sharp, punchy dialogue, The Cut roars out of the gate and smashes through the plate glass window at the finish line. Good stuff. Great stuff.
Besides, you’ve got to love a book with character names like Spero Lucas, Anwan Hawkins, Beano Mobley, Ricardo “Rooster” Holly, & Tavon Lynch. I mean, c’mon – get on the Pelecanos bus already.