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The Oregonian
Thursday, September 8th, 2011
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The Cut

by George Pelecanos

Pelecanos' Latest Is a Cut Below

A review by Steve Duin

When George Pelecanos is at the top of his game, you get early jolts of The Wire, Emmy nominations, The Turnaround and Stephen King crooning about "perhaps the greatest living American crime writer."

When Pelecanos is not, you settle for The Cut.

In his 17th novel, Pelecanos introduces us to Spero Lucas, an Iraqi war vet who spent his tour dreaming about good-looking women, a comfortable bed in a place of his own and money in his pocket. "God," Lucas notes, "what more did you need?"

In pursuit of those essentials, Lucas has no qualms when Anwan Hawkins, a D.C. drug dealer inconvenienced by jail time, asks him to figure out which ingrates are intercepting 30-pound packs of marijuana at their drop-off points.

As Hawkins is happy to pay his recovery fee, a 40-percent cut, Lucas is soon checking out the "crime" scenes with two of Hawkins' deliverymen, both of whom still live with their mothers. He barely has time to catch his breath before the underlings are executed in spectacular fashion, and Lucas finds himself back in a war zone.

Pelecanos' plot is unusually thin and curiously bland, much like his protagonist. Readers must accept on faith that Lucas has the charisma and dexterity necessary to overpower every man and woman he meets, because the novelist offers little supporting evidence. In both the back alleys and the sofa beds, Lucas' moves aren't all that original. He comes across as little more than the smartest guy in a dull-witted room.

The Cut is not a total loss. Even when Pelecanos is misfiring, his writing has a fine rhythm, particularly when the novelist is taking readers on guided tours inside the Beltway.

But we exit the novel dogged by Lucas' question: What more do we need?

Powerful storytelling. Memorable dialogue. Unsettling moral dilemmas.

Pelecanos at the top of his game.

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