The unkindest cut?

Apologies for the headline, but Bob Moyer so often toys with puns and literary allusions that he incites others to try the same.

In this review, the inimitable Bob amuses us by commenting wryly (?) upon our nation’s capital while reviewing a “gritty, atmospheric” novel set in that city’s “sleazy streets.” More good news: George Pelecanos, the author whose “riveting” prose has so entertained Bob, is a prolific writer of books as well as acclaimed TV series.

Just in case anybody wonders about Bob’s fascination with the mean streets of various literary haunts, I’ll throw this in: I’ve seen Bob’s house. It’s on a nice, tree-lined street. Not mean at all.

By Robert Moyer

THE  CUT. By George Pelecanos. Little, Brown. 292 pages. $25.99

George Pelecanos wrote and produced the gritty, atmospheric scripts for the TV series Wired; he now writes gritty, atmospheric scripts for Treme, an HBO series.  Well-received by both critics and viewers, each one of these dramas takes the viewers places they would otherwise not have seen.

Some may be surprised that Pelecanos has been producing gritty atmospheric dramas for years — on paper.  He has been guiding readers through the tackier parts of his hometown haunt of Washington, D.C., in a series of acclaimed novels. (Wait—is there a less tacky side of D.C.? Oh well. …) His treatises on the evil men do to each other around dark corners and down dark alleys have riveted readers to the page, just as his pixilated prose has done on the screen.

He’s come up with a new guide through the sleazy streets of D.C. (Yes, I know, I know, aren’t they all?)  Spero Lucas, a young veteran just returned from Iraq, doesn’t fit in with any crowd; college doesn’t fit someone who’s been to the University of Baghdad, as they call it. He has found a niche, however.  His observational skills, honed in scouting patrols overseas, earn him a job scouring crime scenes for a defense attorney’s clients. While working for one of those clients, a local incarcerated crime boss, he gets an offer to recover some “product” that has disappeared en route. The crime boss can’t get out to do anything, so he offers Spero The Cut of the title, a cut of whatever he gets back.  And, as the narration says, “…the truck began to roll downhill.”

What a trip it is!  As Spero careens into danger, Pelecanos pins down a sense of place with his prose as few other writers can. A cop car cruising the wrong neighborhood, a car cutting him off a little too close, a young man who won’t make eye contact, all out on the streets that Pelecanos has obviously prowled for years. Even more riveting is the brutal fight that forces Spero to use every ounce of his combat skills to overcome his attacker. (Not too far into a Pelecanos novel one begins to wonder about walking the Washington streets.)

Pelecanos sprinkles just enough personal detail along the way to give Spero a dynamic beyond his detecting skills. The adopted son of a Greek family whose adoptive brother is black, he spends time with his widowed mom and the aforementioned brother, a high-school English teacher.  He doesn’t have trouble finding women; he just can’t seem to keep them coming back. In other words, he’s the typical hard-boiled hero — lucky in the street, unlucky in love. Watching him work the streets and women of D.C. will be a pleasure in the books to come.

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