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Get Into Character: George Pelecanos' Deep Soul Tracks

George Pelecanos.
Courtesy of George Pelecanos
George Pelecanos.

When I first moved to the Washington, D.C.-area 10 years ago, I wanted to read novels about my new home. I asked around and received lots of recommendations for political thrillers, political drama, political ... well, you get the picture.

Then someone suggested George Pelecanos.

I don't think I've ever read the phrase "Capitol Hill" in any of his books. But I've read "Georgia Avenue" countless times, because his characters live, work or just end up somewhere along that long thoroughfare dotted with liquor stores, African-American barber shops and Chinese takeout joints.

Pelecanos' characters have great taste in music, no matter which side of the law they represent — and no matter if they're populating his books or the TV shows he's worked on, from Baltimore-set The Wire to New Orleans-rooted Treme. If 1970s soul seems to be the fictional favorite, that's because it's a Pelecanos favorite. "Deep soul," he calls it.

To complement the recent publication of Pelecanos' newest novel, The Cut — and to celebrate the introduction of a new Pelecanos protagonist, Spero Lucas — we asked the author for a playlist of songs that correspond with specific characters or scenes, or are just cool in their own right.

So set your mind on a slow, thoughtful drive along Georgia Avenue with the music on low, and keep an eye out for Derek Strange, Lucas Spero or any number of superbly conjured characters that inhabit the pages of a George Pelecanos novel. Let the music move you as much as his words.

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Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.