THE DOUBLE. By George Pelecanos. Little, Brown. 292 pages. $26.

George Pelecanos has written a book that is more than a formulaic thriller. It explores the effects of war on those who serve in the battlefield.

His protagonist, Spero Lucas, is a private investigator pursuing right over wrong with his own code of justice, a former Marine whose experiences in Fallujah, Iraq, are part of who he is.

The main story involves a stolen painting valued at around $80,000. In discovering the thugs who have it, Lucas finds he is dealing with the most dangerous of men, those without a conscience, the lowlifes of society.

The story builds slowly, but it's well worth the wait for the hold-your-breath scenes. There is almost a biblical sense of "smite thine enemy" in the telling.

Many scenes are disturbingly graphic, but Pelecanos tells the story his way and leaves it to the reader to decide whether justice has been served.

Reviewer Frances Monaco is a writer in Charleston.