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George Pelecanos talks about "The Cut"

George Pelecanos's 17th and latest novel, "The Cut," chronicles the seamy side of Washington, D.C.

By Erik Spanberg / August 12, 2011

Pelecanos says all his novels are straight from the street. "I’m out all the time," he says. "I can’t sit in a room and make things up."

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Stephen King calls George Pelecanos “perhaps America’s greatest living crime writer,” a compliment that now accompanies each successive Pelecanos title.

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Even factoring in the qualifier, the compliment is heady territory, putting Pelecanos in a league with – or above – the likes of Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly, and Scott Turow, to name but a few prime suspects.

Whatever his rank, Pelecanos has built his audience through steady production, chronicling the seamy side of Washington, D.C., unknown to plenty of locals and tourists alike. This month marks the arrival of The Cut, the author’s 17th novel.

It features 29-year-old Iraq war veteran Spero Lucas, a resourceful if morally malleable protagonist.

Lucas is adopted, loves his Greek mother and brother, misses his dead father and dreads the prospect of working a traditional office job.

Instead, he works here and there for a defense attorney, digging up evidence, often by unconventional means. To keep the cash flowing, Spero becomes a for-hire recovery specialist, charging a flat 40% fee, thus the novel’s title. His specialty is stolen goods, a proposition as dubious as it sounds.

Cocky, with questionable judgment, Spero seems sure to win readers over with his combination of confusion and confidence. His creator takes Spero all over DC, from roguish diners to scenic suburban kayaking spots and everywhere in between.

Beyond bikes and kayaks, Spero proves proficient in matters such as tracking guns and property. He’s dead-on, too, when it comes to assessing the racism which determines which murders matter and which ones don’t in mainstream circles. In that other world, the blue-collar realm of Washington that is too often overlooked for all but the most spectacular crimes, Spero struggles to protect the innocent swept up by the usual troubles: greed, violence, money, drugs.

With this novel, Pelecanos delves into the plight of so many veterans coming home from years of war with a muddled sense of what’s next. The story avoids preachy generalities and zeroes in on the gritty flavor of young guys returning with scars of one kind or another, adrenaline-junkies who find it hard to relate to peers who stayed home, oblivious to GEDs and IEDs alike.

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