Note: This review is by my husband Jim.
The Double, the latest novel by George Pelecanos, features a decent plot and some interesting characters. It is fast-paced and rather suspenseful. In this book, Pelecanos brings back his character Spero Lucas (previously featured in The Cut – see Jill’s review here). Spero, just turned 30, is an Iraq war veteran who puts to good use his Marine training in his current occupation as an investigator for a criminal attorney in Washington, D.C. On the side, he has a business finding stolen property, whether legal or not, for a forty percent cut of the value. In this book, he makes a deal to retrieve a very valuable painting called “The Double”. But that’s not all; he also agrees to find the man who stole it, a violent gangbanger who won’t much like either being found, or giving back the painting.
Discussion: I felt many of the little details of the book were gratuitously contrived to cater to callow young males. The result is closer to Marvel comics and farther from Raymond Chandler than I would prefer. For example, a climactic fight scene could have come from a Batman movie.
In the same vein, the gratuitous titillation factor is a bit much. Both Spero and the principal villain have histories of great success with women. What seems unrealistic and a bit annoying is that neither seems to have much charm, but both are described as very well-endowed with “big pipes,” and I don’t mean strong singing voices. Pelecanos writes (in a sentence that would surely have Jill throwing the book) that when Spero walks down the street or goes into a bar, “women noticed him. Some of them got damp.”
Furthermore, how realistic is it that Spero has a gorgeous woman who wants only to go to upscale hotel rooms (for which she pays), drink expensive wine (for which she pays), and have intense, passionate sex, avoiding foreplay and the usual dating rituals? Well, Spero Lucas, the protagonist, meets such a gal, and meets her often in the book. However, she plays virtually no other role in the plot than to flesh out, so to speak, this male fantasy.
Gustav Flaubert was known for his realistic portrayals, which he accomplished largely by describing interesting details about the characters and their environment. Pelecanos also provides many details about his characters, but some of them seem colossally unimportant—I don’t care what brand of jeans Spero wears. Pelecanos is also overly diligent about letting me know what color shirts, shorts, or pants (yawn!) the hero is wearing, which would not be a problem except that Spero changes clothes a lot.
The action is set in Washington, D.C. and Prince George’s County, Maryland, an area in which I lived for four months. I can attest that Pelecanos excels at capturing the nuances of economic status and racial composition that precise geographical position provides.
Evaluation: Despite its flaws and the occasional “Oh come now” moment in the narrative, The Double is a good “beach” or “airplane” book, especially for anyone with a good sense of Washington, D.C. geography and neighborhood composition.
Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2013