The paperback edition of George Pelecanos’s THE CUT hits bookstores today. THE CUT introduces Spero Lucas, an ex-Marine and Iraq vet who specializes in recovering stolen property – no questions asked – in return for forty percent of its value. Spero’s first case involves an imprisoned drug lord, and drops him dead center into the midst of the Washington, D.C., underworld which Pelecanos has chronicled so vividly in all his novels. Spero is Pelecanos’ first series character since Derek Strange, the DC PI who appeared in four novels, most recently 2004’s HARD REVOLUTION.
In a series of e-mail exchanges with Wallace Stroby, Pelecanos talked about THE CUT, his influences, and what’s next:
WALLACE STROBY: After four stand-alone novels that in some ways mirrored your TV work – multilevel stories with a broad array of characters and social concerns – THE CUT feels like a return to your early, leaner and meaner crime novels. What led to that?
GEORGE PELECANOS: On a whim I wrote a short story (“Chosen”) about a married couple who adopt a bunch of kids, and wind up with an interracial family. The story ended with a few sentences about the current status of two of the brothers: Leo Lucas, a teacher at a public high school in Washington, and Spero Lucas, a Marine fighting in Fallujah. That led to me meeting several Marine vets of Iraq and Afghanistan who had come home and were working as private investigators for criminal defense attorneys here. It hit me that some of these guys weren’t interested in desk jobs, and maybe never would be.
Then one day, when I was doing some work at a local correctional facility, I met a man who had lost a leg in Fallujah, and was picking up a relative who was being released from jail. We had a very interesting, enlightening conversation. There are a lot of stories to tell about these veterans, and I felt like I had one cooking in my head. THE CUT came forward.
I guess I was ready to write a straight-ahead crime novel. On the internet some people were making comments that I had gone soft or literary, whatever that means. It puts a chip on my shoulder when people think they have me figured out. I write the book that knocks on the door of my imagination.
WS: Spero’s chosen profession has echoes of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, in that he recovers lost goods in exchange for a cut of what he salvages. Do you see yourself going down the road with him?
GP: THE DEEP BLUE GOODBYE was on the syllabus of the University of Maryland crime fiction class that pretty much changed my life. Eventually I read all the titles in that series. I even named one of my dogs Travis, and she was a bitch.
Spero Lucas, in some respects, is me tipping my hat to Mr. MacDonald and McGee and to the physical-and-flesh spirit of those books. I’m not much for long-range plans, but I will definitely write another Lucas novel. The character stuck with me. I want to know more about him myself.
WS: The McGee books also ruminated a lot about what it meant to be a man in today’s world. That’s a major theme in your books as well – manhood and what it entails, fathers and sons, mentoring. You don’t see a lot of that in crime fiction. Is it something you felt was lacking in the genre?
GP: The subject of manhood and masculinity is underserved in all types of fiction, and when it is touched on it’s not always done with complete honesty. Meaning, it becomes wish fulfillment, giving the readers what they want to believe, rather than what’s true. You can add the subject of race and class to that, too.
Male father figures are a critical element in the shaping of young lives. When I go into a juvenile facility I can almost guarantee that nearly all of the boys I talk to had no significant male guidance when they were raised. What you see around here now are coaches, teachers and mentors stepping up and taking on that role. My last three books were about fathers and sons. We’ve raised two sons and a daughter, so I felt like I was qualified to go deep into the subject.
Continue reading “A Conversation with George Pelecanos: Part I”