By Carol Memmott
– George Pelecanos, gearhead, movie buff and crime novelist, is rolling through Silver Spring, Md., in his 2008 Bullitt-replica Mustang.
The Highland Green fastback, one of only 7,700 built by Ford, was snagged by guys who love the iconic 1968 film starring Steve McQueen. In his role as police Lt. Frank Bullitt, the Mustang-driving “King of Cool” pursues a Tuxedo Black Dodge Charger through San Francisco in one of the greatest car-chase sequences in movie history.
“It’s kind of corny, but I bought my own Bullitt Mustang,” says Pelecanos, 54, who says the McQueen movie was one of his favorites growing up. “I sort of had to have it.” He points out, with obvious delight, that his was No. 28 off the line.
“I have a great love of films,” he says. “I went from being a movie freak to being a novelist, and it was very influential in my work.”
The author of 17 crime novels set in the gritty, “other” Washington and a writer/producer for HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire and now Treme steers the Mustang over the D.C. line toward his destination: a church parking lot that he says “is a good place to kill a guy.”
Pelecanos has been here several times before, either on his Trek bike or on foot. It’s how he scouts locations for scenes in his books. The Cut adds a new protagonist — a young Iraq War vet turned P.I. named Spero Lucas — to the stable of detectives, cops, criminals and honest everyday folk of all colors who people his novels. The Cut went on sale today.
While he drives, Pelecanos points out a house where he imagines Lucas lives and the local Safeway where one of his characters buys his morning coffee. “I’m always out on my bike,” says Pelecanos, who lives in Silver Spring, not far from the nation’s capital. “I found Lucas’ house. I found the house he breaks into. I did the walk from his house to the church one night. I wanted to see what it feels like to be walking at night in these places where there are not many people. I wanted to make sure you could kill a guy a half-block from the 4th District police station.”
This coplike knowledge of the streets gives his novels authenticity. They are, he says, “a combination of just being out there, being engaged with the city, because I’m not a person who has a huge imagination. I can’t sit in an office and make my stories up or dream up my characters — I have to go out there and find them. I’m just a firm believer in breathing the air and feeling the dirt between your fingers.”