Whenever an interview with George Pelecanos pops up online, you know the Nerd eats that shit up. Guy wrote some of the best episodes of The Wire and some of my favorite books ever – I wanna know his perspective on every-fucking-thing. Seems, though, that he’s really playing up in his recent interviews how he upped his game with The Cut, made the novel more badass and tight than his more IMPORTANT SOCIAL THEMES novels of late, tried to school the fresh young faces in the new crime class, as it were. But before the Nerd gets into whether or not Pelecanos succeeded with his aims, let’s get to what The Cut is about.
In the novel we follow Spero Lucas, an ex-marine and current investigator for a high-price D.C. defense attorney. When not hitting the streets for his lawyer boss, Spero is doing his lucrative side-gig: finding shit for folks and returning it for his 40% cut. The Cut kicks off with Spero doing a job for an incarcerated pot dealer. The dealer has a sweet set-up wherein he has large packages of weed shipped from his connect via Fed Ex to the homes of unsuspecting “straight” people, having his boys stay nearby to pick them up right after they’re dropped off.
It’s risky, and you can lose a 100K here and there if Johnny Professional has a cold and stays home from work, but it’s usually a fucking snap. Thing is, losing two packages in a row from different houses is highly suspect. So Spero’s on the case, figures he smokes weed himself, who gets hurt in this kinda trafficking? Naturally, this being a Pelecanos novel, two boys are brutally murdered and Spero’s now in it for more than just his (say it with me now, folks!) cut.
There’s a lot about The Cut that is similar to what we’ve come to expect from Pelecanos’ output of late. You’ve got strong families raising kids right, weak families fucking kids up. You’ve got colorful bad guys and stout, moral men putting them in their place with violence in a final showdown. There’s a bunch of DC history and specific places discussed (too much so for the Nerd, the fucking grocery list of street names crossed and turned onto bogging down the action in certain stretches), and there’s naturally a lot of Greek third-generation-immigrant-type shit in there too.
But despite that stuff, I do see where Pelecanos is coming from when he says upped the stakes with The Cut. First off, there’s Spero Lucas himself, a character that is of far more questionable character than we’ve seen from Pelecanos in a while. He has a code, but it’s a lot more flexible than, say, the code of the protagonists in The Turnaround or The Way Home. He’ll work for bad guys, obviously, and he’ll also kill some motherfuckers – righteously, of course – and not tell the cops about it, or even feel all that bad about it, really.
Then there’s the plotting itself in The Cut that sets it apart, finding Pelecanos at his most engaged with the storytelling since The Night Gardener. Yeah, like most of his work the story is essentially an urban western where the good guys have to put down the dirty dog bad guys and make the world right in the end, but here there’s some twists and ambiguity to the proceedings like we haven’t seen in a while. The plot is still quite organic, but there’s a little more of that tight, classic detective structure to it and the epilogue makes Spero’s actions more dark than Pelecanos has been willing to go of late.
So yeah, I’ll fucking give it to him: George Pelecanos’ The Cut is a return to form, a book that reminds you that yes, this dude wrote fucking Soul Circus and Hell to Pay not that long ago. Spero Lucas is good for Pelecanos, and I can’t wait to see what dark corners the guy takes his author to in the coming years.