Spero Lucas has a new line of work. Since he returned home after serving in Iraq, he has been doing special investigations for a defense attorney. He’s good at it, and he has carved out a niche by recovering stolen property, no questions asked. His cut is 40 percent.
A high profile crime boss who has heard of Lucas’s specialty hires him to find out who has been stealing from his operation. It’s the biggest job Lucas has ever been offered, and he quickly gets a sense of what’s going on. But before he can close in on what’s been taken, he tangles with a world of men whose amorality and violence leave him reeling. Is any cut worth your family, your lover, or your life?
Release date: January 1, 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Print pages: 304
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One of the Washington Post’s Favorite Books of 2011
One of the Wall Street Journal’s Best Mysteries of 2011
One of the Boston Globe’s 10 Best Crime Books of 2011
One of the Chicago Sun-Times’s Stories We Loved in 2011
One of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2011
“Lucas is a terrific character, uncorrupted by cynicism and boyishly eager to catch up on the recreational adventures he sacrificed for military service.… Although Pelecanos writes in the third person, he seems to be inside Lucas’s head, looking out at the world with the omnivorous vision of someone savoring and recording every precious detail. Street scenes are studied as if they were treasures.… What emerges is a magnificent collage of a city loved with a passion by someone ravenous for life.”
—Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review
“George Pelecanos is one of a current handful of true masters of American noir.”
—Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News
“Triple-distilled excellence: first, a truly great new series character; second, a truly great contemporary crime novel; and third, and as always, Pelecanos’s status as the undisputed poet laureate of America’s most secret city—the three quarters of Washington, D.C., that tourists never see. Not just recommended—this is essential reading.”
“Spectacular.… This is a solidly hard-boiled and thoroughly satisfying private eye story that rivals The Maltese Falcon for moral ambiguity and far exceeds it in humanity. The writing is spare; the dialogue rings with authenticity; and walking D.C.’s mean streets with Lucas is the next best thing to being there. The ending comes all too soon in what is easily the best crime novel I’ve read this year.”
—Hallie Ephron, Boston Globe
“Pelecanos writes meticulously layered, slow-boil crime novels about the real Washington, D.C., and his gripping latest, The Cut, launches a new series around a new hero.”
“The gifted Pelecanos kicks off a new series that features Spero Lucas, a young Iraq war veteran working for a Washington, D.C., defense attorney. Lucas specializes in recovering stolen property and money—for a 40 percent cut. An imprisoned crime boss hires Lucas to infiltrate his operation and uncover who has been ripping him off.… Spero must match his own toughness against the violent men involved. Pelecanos, a writer on HBO’s The Wire and Treme, is both easy to read and challenging. His prose is exhilarating—lean, spare, and mean.”
—Les Roberts, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Reading Pelecanos is like overhearing some locals in the next booth work their way through a few beers and the day’s tales of their wild lives. Soak it up—America’s voice in all its raspy truth.”
—Randy Michael Signor, Chicago Sun-Times
“Powerful.… The Cut saves its serious condemnation for sharp-dressing thugs with ill-gotten money and too much time to indulge themselves. When a heavy-drinking, booze-soaked guy wears purple and favors strip clubs in a Pelecanos book, there is zero chance that he has a heart of gold. And when a nice young neglected kid likes to read, stays out of trouble, and dreams of being a film director, he sounds frighteningly like an accident waiting to happen.… The Cut does a fine job of establishing Spero as a durable and highly appealing hero. And it sets up a backstory and modus operandi that will work well for him in the future.… He’d like to do some good in this world. Mr. Pelecanos will easily find ways for him to do it.”
—Janet Maslin, New York Times
“Pelecanos’s coplike knowledge of the streets gives his novels authenticity.… A ‘perfect place’ also describes where Pelecanos is in his career.”
—Carol Memmott, USA Today
“The Cut gives Pelecanos the opportunity to paint a remarkably broad and deep portrait of places in Washington that probably are little known, if at all, by people who read (or write) book reviews. The Cut is presented as the first in a series, so the sequels should be well worth waiting for.”
—Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
“Every time I read one of George Pelecanos’s novels—and The Cut might be the best yet—I’m left a little awed, a little envious, and wholly certain that what I’ve just experienced is the authentic marriage of art to truth. The guy’s a national treasure.”
“There are two stars in George Pelecanos’s new novel, The Cut. The first is Spero Lucas, an Iraq war vet who has carved out an informal business as an investigator with a particular talent for finding things—sometimes, not entirely legal things—that have gone lost. The other is Washington, D.C., where the story takes place.… The Cut is deeply entrenched in a place, and Washington—Lucas’s version of it, anyway—is as clear as if he’d drawn you a map.… Spero’s pursuit of the lost drugs brings him into striking distance of a handful of dangerous characters, and he’s in the kind of fix that would make any rational person turn and try to get out. Yet Spero goes deeper. This is where things get really interesting, and it’s entirely rooted in his character: He’s confronted mortal danger already, and when threatened, he’s inclined to go all in. For all the winningness of Spero Lucas—his modesty, postwar impatience, love for his family, devoted reading, easy banter, good taste in restaurants, gestures of kindness—it’s this forward drive that makes him interesting, that makes him an excellent candidate for a mystery series.… The characters and the Washington of The Cut are complicated and interesting.… In Spero Lucas, he’s got a promising character.”
—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
“No one draws character like Pelecanos.… And no one, no writer of any kind, writes D.C. with the kind of affection that Pelecanos does.… The fresh protagonist has energized his writing: Lucas is a new generation of badass—young, on the make, just out of the military, liberated from any conventional moral code, beholden to no one other than his brother and his mom.”
—David Granger, Esquire
“Fans new and old will celebrate George Pelecanos’s return to the ring with his latest novel, The Cut.… Pelecanos has perhaps the best ear in the business for contemporary street lingo, and he passes it on to the reader without editorial commentary. His writing is masterful, and The Cut deserves a place among his best work, which, as his legions of readers well know, is high praise indeed.”
—Bruce Tierney, BookPage
“Pelecanos’s characters often speak of their love of classic Westerns, and there have been more than a few showdowns at the O.K. Corral in his best work. We can feel another one coming here, too, as Spero methodically oils guns and lays plans for the inevitable confrontation. ‘His blood ticked electric through his veins. The feeling was familiar and right.’ Yes, indeed. Familar and right for Spero and also for Pelecanos’s fans.”
—Bill Ott, Booklist (starred review)
“It’s entertaining stuff, served up as dry and bracing as a glass of retsina.”
—John McMurtrie, San Francisco Chronicle
“A lean, swift, atmospheric detective novel.… The characters—good-hearted, ill-intentioned, or in between—are shown by Mr. Pelecanos with loving clarity, free of cliché, condescension, or illusion. Spero Lucas is an engagingly layered character.… The Cut is a resourceful and notably original work that delivers the thrills of an action movie and the poignancy of fine storytelling.”
—Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal
“His crime-writing peers call Pelecanos the ‘undisputed poet’ of Washington’s gritty side.… While Pelecanos made his bones in the noir tradition, there’s a definite ‘Western’ feel to The Cut.… It’s peppered with pitch-perfect dialogue and captures the sights, sounds, and taste of Washington in rich detail. In short, Pelecanos reads like the real deal.… Pelecanos knows a thing or two about capturing the authenticity of urban America with an ethnically and socially diverse cast.”
—Christian DuChateau, CNN.com
“Pelecanos’s excellent first in a new crime series.… Both vital and timely, this remarkable novel also connects D.C.’s past and present as only Pelecanos does. Readers will want to see a lot more of Lucas.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Pelecanos’s writing has a fine rhythm, particularly when the novelist is taking readers on guided tours inside the Beltway.”
—Steve Dubin, Oregonian
“There are hard-hitting writers, like Dennis Lehane and Richard Price, and there are ambitious, prolific, and timeless writers like Robert B. Parker and Lawrence Block. The best of those two worlds merge in American classic George Pelecanos, who has cauterized the wounds of this country in sixteen books about cops, crime, race, and home-grown wars.… Readers will be overjoyed to delve into his new series, starting with The Cut, about a mercenary P.I. in Pelecanos’s home turf of Washington, D.C.… Great dialogue, propulsive plots.”
—Clayton Moore, Kirkus Reviews
“When Pelecanos is at his best—as he is here—the action hurtles along… while sharply delineated characters are thrust into life-threatening situations.… All the societal changes afoot give the author fresh context to explore racial issues that he depicts with empathy and intelligence.… There is some mystery involved, but like all of Pelecanos’s novels, The Cut isn’t so much a whodunit as a where-, what-, why-, and howdunit. There’s plenty of heft, but the book crackles with energy as it follows its sometimes hotheaded protagonist, who’s trying to make peace with the world while still feeling the pull of the charged atmosphere he became accustomed to while spending his youth in the theater of war. The Cut is hard to put down, and it sticks with you when you do.”
—Dan DeLuca, Newark Star-Ledger
“Loyal followers of George Pelecanos… get a good deal of gratification with The Cut, featuring one of the most capable and compelling characters to grace the crime genre in years. On the basis of one book, Spero Lucas has staying power. Nobody writes crime as cogently, with as much attention to detail and care for the reader, as Pelecanos.… A master of verisimilitude—dialogue, dress, habits, customs, relationships—with an encyclopedic knowledge of police work and the patchwork of neighborhoods that make up our nation’s capital, Pelecanos’s award-winning books are literary immersions in brief, explosive episodes.… The cinematic conclusion to the book is like something out of a Scorsese film. Pelecanos writes with clean, spare precision, his prose as lean and muscular as Spero Lucas.”
—Steve Bennett, San Antonio Express-News
“The freakishly prolific Pelecanos has written sixteen novels.… If you are a guy, have ever wondered what was going on in a guy’s head, or just like sharp, well-written crime fiction with a point, you owe it to yourself to check it out. But if you are, like me, already a Pelecanos fan, The Cut is doubly worth a look.… Pelecanos returns here to the P.I. procedural a stronger, more interesting novelist, not just in terms of his prose and his characters, but in terms of his reach and ambition.… Pelecanos’s obsession with what it means to be a good man spills out of him as naturally, and nearly as copiously, as his music and pulp fiction references and his encyclopedic knowledge of D.C.’s neighborhoods.… Subtle, and interesting.… Pelecanos, now well into his fifties, is unusually adept at getting inside the minds of young guys.… It wouldn’t be a Pelecanos story if Spero didn’t advance a tiny bit toward manhood and learn something about himself in the process.”
—Michael Bourne, The Millions
“What seems like an overused idea can turn into something special in the hands of a master.… Now George Pelecanos, proclaimed our greatest crime novelist by Stephen King, has proved it all over again with The Cut. The story is beautifully told in the lean, muscular prose style that readers of the author’s other fine novels, including The Way Home and The Night Gardener, have come to expect.… Readers are sure to be eager for the next Spero Lucas adventure.”
—Bruce DeSilva, Associated Press
“Stephen King has called George Pelecanos ‘perhaps the greatest living American crime writer.’ I have to agree that he sits on that perch along with James Ellroy, Laura Lippman, and Elmore Leonard by my own account.… I am looking forward to seeing where Pelecanos takes Spero Lucas.”
—David Gutowski, Largehearted Boy
“Pelecanos proves once again that his knowledge of Washington, D.C., its streets, its neighborhoods, and, especially, a certain stratum of its people, is unparalleled. Also as usual, he writes like an angel.… George Pelecanos shows yet again why he is one of the best in the business. But isn’t it sort of ironic that he is being lionized nationally now—after television made his name better known—when he has always been so very good?”
—John Greenya, Washington Times
THEY WERE in a second-story office with a bank of windows overlooking D Street at 5th, in a corner row house close to the federal courts. Tom Petersen, big and blond, sat behind his desk, wearing an untucked paisley shirt, jeans, and boots. Spero Lucas, in Carhartt, was in a hard chair set before the desk. Petersen was a criminal defense attorney, private practice. Lucas, one of his investigators.
A black Moleskine notebook the size of a pocket Bible was open in Lucas’s hand. He was scribbling something in the book.
“It’s all in the documents I’m going to give you,” said Petersen with growing impatience. “You don’t need to take notes.”
“I’d rather,” said Lucas.
“I can’t tell if you’re listening.”
“I’m listening. Where’d they boost the Denali?”
“They took it up in Manor Park, on Peabody Street. Near the community garden, across from the radio towers.”
“Behind the police station?”
“Right in back of Four-D.”
“Pretty bold,” said Lucas. “How many boys?”
“Two. Unfortunately, my client, David Hawkins, was the one behind the wheel.”
“You just have him?”
“The other one, Duron Gaskins, he’s been assigned a PD.”
“Duron,” said Lucas.
Petersen shrugged. “Like the paint.”
“How’d David get so lucky to score a stud like you?”
“I’m representing his father on another matter,” said Petersen.
“So this is like a favor.”
“A four-hundred-dollar-an-hour favor.”
Lucas’s back had begun to stiffen. He shifted his weight in his chair. “Give me some details.”
Petersen pushed a manila file across the desk. “Here.”
“Talk to me.”
“What do you want to know?”
“How’d they do it, for starters?”
“Steal the vehicle? That was easy. The boys were walking down the street, supposed to be in school, but hey. It’s early in the morning, cold as hell. You remember that snap we had back in February? This woman comes out of her apartment, starts her SUV up, and then leaves it running and goes back into the apartment.”
“She forget somethin?”
“She was heating up the Denali before she went to work.”
“Insurance companies don’t like that.”
“She left the driver’s door unlocked, too. So naturally, being teenage boys, they got in and took the SUV for a spin.”
“I would have,” said Lucas.
“You did, I recall.”
“What happened next?”
“From Peabody, David went south on Ninth to Missouri, then drove east. He caught North Capitol along Rock Creek Cemetery and took that cutoff street west, the stretch that goes by the Soldiers’ Home.”
“That would be Allison,” said Lucas, starting to see it, like he was looking down at a detail map. He had a cop’s knowledge of D.C. because he was out in it, street level, most of his waking hours. When he didn’t have to drive his Cherokee, Lucas rode his bicycle around town. At night he often walked.
“Here’s where they got in trouble. David, keep in mind he’s fifteen, no significant driving experience far as I know, he loses control of the SUV. Sideswipes a lady in a Buick, which knocks her out of her lane and into a couple of parked cars.”
“By now they’d be on Rock Creek Church Road.”
“Yeah, there,” said Petersen. “The woman in the Buick? Claims she’s got neck injuries.”
“That’s not good.”
“I’m gonna work something out with her attorney.”
“This kid’s father must be flush.”
“This where the police come in?”
“Happens to be a patrol car, coupla uniforms idling nose out at Second and Varnum see this collision.”
“And the chase is on.”
“Took the police officer a half minute to put his coffee down and flip on the siren and light bar. By that time, David knew he’d been burned, and he jumps the sidewalk and cuts right onto Upshur Street.”
“Driving on the Sidewalk, that’s a good one.”
“Fleeing and Eluding, Leaving the Scene of an Accident, Auto Theft…”
“Kid’s got a rack of problems.”
“He fishtails when he hits Upshur. Comes out of that and pins it. You know Upshur going west there—”
“It’s long and straight. Downhill.”
Petersen leaned forward, getting into it. “This boy is screaming down Upshur, Spero. Blowing four-ways, Wale or whatever coming loud out the windows.”
“Nah,” said Lucas, chuckling.
“Now you’re making shit up. You don’t know what they were listening to.”
“True. They’re coming down Upshur, the patrol car, pretty far back but gaining ground, in pursuit. Eventually our boys hit that commercial strip getting down toward Georgia Avenue, at Ninth.”
“I know the spot,” said Lucas. He was drawing a rough map, very quickly, in his notebook.
“And there’s another cop car,” said Petersen, “parked right there on the street. The driver is waiting on his partner, who’s getting a pack of smokes in a little market they got in that strip.”
“What market?” said Lucas.
“I don’t know the name of it. Spanish joint, eight hundred block, north side of Upshur. Beer and wine, pork rinds, like that. It’s in the file, along with the address. What happens next is, David sees this police car, and I guess he panics, and here’s where he makes the last mistake. He cuts a sharp right into an alley, right before Ninth.”
“A car is parked in the alley, blocking their way. The boys get out of the vehicle and run; David Hawkins is apprehended on the street. The other boy, Duron, is caught a little while later, attempting to hide in the bathroom of an El Salvadoran restaurant around the corner.”
“Who arrested David?”
“The officer waiting in the patrol car. A Clarence Jackson. By then the car in pursuit had arrived on the scene.”
“How’d Officer Jackson know that David was one of the boys in the car?”
“In his report, Jackson stated that he observed two boys exit an SUV that they had driven into the alley. Jackson got to David first. The arriving officers arrested Duron in the restaurant.”
“Where was Officer Jackson parked when he saw this?”
“It’s in the file.”
Lucas sat still for a long minute, looking at nothing. He closed his notebook and got up out of his seat. He stood five-foot-eleven, went one eighty-five, had a flat stomach and a good chest and shoulders. His hair was black and he wore it short. His eyes were green, flecked with gold, and frequently unreadable. He was twenty-nine years old.
Petersen watched Lucas stretch. “Sorry. That seat’s unforgiving.”
“It’s these wood floors. The chair sits funny on ’em cause the planks are warped.”
“This house goes back to the nineteenth century.”
“Your point is what?”
“Ghosts of greatness walk these rooms. I start messing with the floors, I might make them angry.”
A young GW law student entered Petersen’s office and dropped a large block of papers on his desk. She was dark haired, fully curved, and effortlessly attractive. Tom Petersen’s interns looked more or less like younger versions of his knockout wife.
“The Parker briefs,” said the woman, whose name was Constance Kelly.
“Thank you,” said Petersen. He watched Lucas admire her as she walked away.
Petersen stood and went to the eastern window of his office. Below, on the street, lawyers pulled wheeled briefcases toward the courthouse, uniformed and plainclothes police bullshitted with one another, mothers spoke patiently and angrily with their sons, civil servants took cigarette breaks, and folks of all shapes and colors went in and out of the Potbelly shop on the first floor.
“Life’s rich pageant,” said Petersen.
“That’s a rock record from back in your day, right?”
“Inspector Clouseau, originally.”
“You got me on that one.”
“I have twenty years on you. At times the perspective is obvious. Other times, no.” Petersen looked him over with the respect that men who have not served give to those who have. “You’ve seen a lot, haven’t you?”
“It’s been interesting, so far.” Lucas slipped his notebook into his jacket and picked up the David Hawkins file off Petersen’s desk.
“Bring me something back I can use,” said Petersen.
Lucas nodded. “I’ll get out there.”
THE NEXT morning he stopped by the Glenwood Cemetery in Northeast to see his baba. Glenwood was an old but well-kept graveyard, acres of rolling, high-ground land holding plots with headstones memorializing lives going back to the 1800s. His father was buried here, beside his own parents, on the west side of the facility, which bordered dead-end residential streets stemming off North Capitol in a neighborhood called Stronghold. Past this last section of graves the land dropped off and there went Bryant Street, its short block of row homes in a neat descending line. Lucas looked down at his father’s marker and placed a dozen roses on his plot. He said a silent prayer of thanks for the granting of life, did his stavro, and got back in his four-wheel.
He drove a 2001 Jeep Cherokee, the old boxy model with the legendary in-line 6. The model had been discontinued years ago, but because it was sturdy and reliable there were many of them still on the streets. In that respect it was the aughts version of the old Dodge Dart. With his black Jeep, empty of bumper st. . .
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