The Cut

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Category: Contemporary
Date Published: August 29, 2011
Number of Pages: 336 pages
Print Price: $
eBook Price: $9.99

I’ve read several novels by George Pelecanos, all dark, all thrillers, all set in poorer parts of Washington D.C., but I never expected to be reviewing one of them for this site. That’s because Pelecanos has never shown much interest in the Christian faith, neither as a belief of his protoganists or his villains nor as a background to the action.

His heroes are usually black, often private detectives, sometimes players on the edge of criminality. But Pelecanos is Greek-American (the producer of The Wire TV series of which I know nothing). Several characters in his earlier novels and the occasional hero are Greek-Americans too.

This time, in his latest book, The Cut, the hero is not only Greek-American, a young private eye, but he’s a church-goer, a Greek Orthodox, a former altar boy. Pelecanos doesn’t make explicit how his hero Lucas integrates his faith with his life, but the inference is that it provides him with his own personal moral code, which he needs since he’s doing something illegal throughout the book (so the man-made laws aren’t any help) but not immoral.

He’s taken on the task of getting back some drug money stolen from a jailed drug dealer. For this he will get a 40 per cent cut. In this Noir world, things go badly from the start. The bodies of the innocent and the culpable pile up, and everyone underestimates Lucas’ determination to deliver on his obligation. The money is dirty but Lucas is as honorable as he can be under the circumstances and tries to do as little damage as possible as he fulfills his contract. He especially tries to save the life of one young black student who witnesses the theft in the first place, a boy with the dream of making movies.

At the same time he is the dutiful son of an ailing mother, he visits his beloved father’s fresh grave and he has good times with his brother.

One of these exchanges exemplifies the subtlety I like Pelecanos for. His brother is wearing a shirt with a folksy pattern he identifies, when mocked by Lucas, as gingham. “It looks like you a wearing a table cloth,” says Lucas.

A few days later, Lucas is challenged by a friend about his shirt. “It looks like a table cloth,” says the friend. “I am looking for spaghetti stains.” That is all the information we are given for us to know that he imitating his big brother by wearing the same pattern shirt. Anyone who has a big brother he admires knows immediately how much Lucas admires his older brother.

In other Pelecanos books there are similar touches. In one, several groups of bad and good guys cruise Washington DC, listening to the same music groups, but drawing different conclusions about them based on race. Something that happens makes them all think of the Tony Curtis-Sidney Poitier movie, The Defiant Ones, which, for the black characters, is the movie with Sidney Poitier as a jailbreaker chained to what’s his name, and for the white characters is that movie where Tony Curtis is a jailbreaker chained to some black guy.

Lucas and his brother are both adopted. One is black and the other white but Pelecanos doesn’t say which. You have to guess from other’s reactions. His point is that for his parents, him and his brother, color is not a factor. On the other hand, there are two other adult children who are absent from this novel, but I bet will appear and provide plotting in future novels about Lucas. I think they are natural children of their parents so the race plus adoption issues may arise.

The religious context is understated. Two scenes in church, one at the end and one at the beginning, a reference by his brother to what “Father so and so taught us,” in the moral plane, with the implication what he taught us must be followed.

This is a book I recommend strongly. And, as always, I’d be interested in anyone’s comments who reads Pelecanos.

ISBN-13: 978-0316078429
Original Language: American English
Book Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches

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