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posted: 10/14/2013 6:00 AM

Characters are well-drawn in new Pelecanos novel

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  • "The Double" by George Pelecanos

    "The Double" by George Pelecanos

By Bruce Desilva, Associated Press

Spero Lucas joined the Marines, got shipped off to Iraq, fought house-to-house in Fallujah and came home in one piece to Washington, D.C. Others he served with are damaged, some physically, some in ways you can't see. Lucas says he's OK.

He's not, but he's better off than most.

His needs are simple: a clean bed, a steady supply of beer and weed, a woman now and then. But he craves action. For him, there must always be a mission.

Spero, first introduced by author George Pelecanos in "The Cut," finds what he needs by doing part-time investigative work for a criminal defense attorney and by helping people recover stolen goods in return for a finder's fee. Sometimes the work requires killing. Spero, who has no nightmares about the lives he took in war, is still capable of doing what needs to be done without remorse -- most of the time.

"The Double," the new novel featuring the former Marine, finds Spero especially busy.

His brother Leo, a high school teacher troubled by the unsolved murder of a student, asks Spero to look into it.

A lawyer hires Spero to find something, anything, that can throw doubt on the prosecution's case against a man who almost certainly murdered his lover.

And Grace Kinkaid, a middle-age woman with bad taste in men, commissions Spero to recover a painting taken by a cad who seduced her, dumped her and ripped her off on his way out the door.

Along the way, the flawed hero finds time to visit wounded warriors and to fall in love with a married, older woman.

The Kincaid case, which provides the main story line, pits Spero against a gang of thieves led by a swaggering sociopath. To track them down, he leans on some old war buddies, but when the brutal confrontations come, he prefers to work alone.

The author laces his story with vivid descriptions of Washington's changing urban landscape. The writing is taut, the violence is graphic and the characters are so well-drawn that they step off the page and into your life.

Pelecanos, well-known for the scripts he wrote for HBO's "The Wire," is the author of a string of critically acclaimed crime novels including "The Night Gardener" and "The Turnaround." With "The Double" he has produced a throwback, a hard-boiled story that will remind readers of the Parker novels that Donald Westlake published under the pen name Richard Stark.

For fans of such novels, "The Double" is as good as it gets.

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