For the past week, when not dodging raindrops and worrying about the threat of flooded streets, I’ve been immersed in plenty of murder and mayhem. More specifically, I’ve flown through new novels by two of my favorite crime fiction masters; Lee Child and George Pelecanos. Aside from being categorized as mystery writers (please don’t use that detestable term “thriller”), the two writers are quite different in style. Pelecanos strays more into literary territory and tends to moralize a lot more, but both writers are not shy about using copious amounts of blood and violence in their plots.
The new Child novel, The Affair, once again features the cerebral — and very lethal — Jack Reacher character. For this novel, however, Child takes the reader back to 1997, a time when Reacher was still a major in the US Army and had yet to start roaming the highways and byways of America, rescuing damsels in distress and dishing out his brand of righteous retribution. As usual, Reacher becomes involved with a beautiful woman, kicks the asses of — or kills — various bad guys (often with his bare hands!), and delights the reader with his variety of eccentric habits (why use a watch when your “inner clock” always knows what time it is; why wash a shirt when you can throw it away and buy a new one instead; who needs a bag or suitcase when all you carry is a toothbrush!). I’ve read every Lee Child book thus far — every one of them a thoroughly gripping Jack Reacher adventure — and I’m still satisfied enough to eagerly await the next one. This one doesn’t disappoint.
The new Pelecanos book, The Cut, features an entirely new protagonist (a young man who served in Iraq and now “recovers things” for people), but once again is set within the familiar boundaries of the Washington, D.C. area. As in past novels, Pelecanos explores racial relations and social issues with astute insight and compassion. Many reviewers note that Pelecanos is one of the few writers of crime fiction who is able to elevate his prose to true literature, and I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. In addition to Pelecanos’ deft writing skill, there are frequent moments of offbeat brilliance. One of characters, a high school teacher, has his students read novels by Elmore Leonard and Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) for a class assignment. References to various songs, albums (REM’s Life’s Rich Pagaent, Decoration Day by Drive-By Truckers), and musicians (Augustus Pablo, Black Uhuru, Ennio Morricone) pop up repeatedly and induce knowing smiles every time. The only annoying habit that Pelecanos continuously inflicts on the reader is his reciting the brand name of every stitch of clothing that each character is wearing, as well as the details of every vehicle they are driving and the guns they are using. I realize that many people believe such details make the plot more realistic, but Pelecanos really goes overboard with his product parade. You almost have to wonder if he’s getting paid to endorse these brands. Enough already! Another than those blips, this is another excellent Pelecanos novel, populated by lovingly flawed and believable characters.