The second in a series featuring a new investigator represents an update for the veteran mystery novelist.
Pelecanos (The Cut, 2011 etc.) has long rotated protagonists rather than settling on a signature hero. His latest is Spero Lucas, who differs from his predecessors in terms of generation, experience and bloodline. And perhaps code of morality as well. A young veteran from the Iraq War, he has become a defense attorney’s special investigator at least partly for “a replication of what he’d experienced there every day: a sense of purpose and heightened sensation.” He’s also a digital native who knows that “the secret most investigators keep is that the bulk of their modern day work is done via computer programs.” He comes by his Greek name via adoption, as part of a loving, mixed-race (but dysfunctional) family, and he tends to associate the music that Pelecanos and his previous protagonists favor with his late father. What remains constant throughout the work of the novelist is the deep knowledge of local Washington, D.C. (where this and most of his novels are set), popular culture (from music to sports to literature and beyond) and the human heart. Here, the murder Lucas begins to investigate soon seems like an afterthought, and the romance with which he becomes obsessed seems more like fantasy (though revelatory of his character) than reality. The title (fittingly enough) has a double meaning, referring both to a stolen painting Lucas tries to recover and the adversary he finds himself facing (one of them insists that the two of them are very much alike). He seems to scoff at the very notion of "literary fiction, whatever that was," while praising "a good story told with clean, efficient writing, a plot involving a problem to be solved or surmounted, and everyday characters the reader could relate to.” A few more loose ends than usual, but this is a novel Spero Lucas would appreciate.
Cult favorite Pelecanos deserves an even wider readership.