The Last Detective, by Robert Crais

Thought, thought (for no particular reason) during a visit to the grocery store:



I do not want to see your toes.



Your mother may have told you they were adorable. Your Significant Other may tell you they’re sexy. You probably feel that traditional shoes are confining, especially in the warmer months.

But I, for one, don’t enjoy looking at other people’s toes.

The only toes I have any interest at all in are my own. And I’d just as soon not look at them much either.

This is a purely personal judgment, and I don’t expect anyone to pay any attention to it.

But I feel better now that I’ve shared.

I read one of Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole novels before, at the urging of Aitchmark, who’s a fan. I think I made a poor choice. It was one (probably Voodoo River) where Cole, a Los Angeles P.I., leaves his natural habitat to do a job in New Orleans. It didn’t work for me and I didn’t have any desire to go back to the franchise.

But I picked up The Last Detective last week and underwent an attitude alteration.

For one thing, the book explains how the hero got the name “Elvis,” an element of his persona that repelled me from the start. I can forgive it now.

At the beginning of the story, Elvis Cole is looking after Ben, the teenaged son of his girlfriend, Lucy Chenier, while she’s out of town. Lucy was a character in the New Orleans novel. She fell in love with Cole and followed him to L.A.

But one afternoon, Ben goes outside to play on the hillside (Cole lives in the Hollywood Hills, not far from Michael Connelly’s detective Harry Bosch, who makes an uncredited cameo appearance) and just disappears. A phone call a short time later confirms his worst fears—the boy has been kidnapped.

Examining the site of the abduction, Cole realizes a frightening fact—this snatch was a professional operation, and the kidnappers are military trained. Better than he is, and he was an Army Ranger.

It all goes back to the military, because the kidnapper claims the boy was taken in revenge for something Cole did in Vietnam, on a day of horror when he lost his best friends, but knows he did nothing wrong.

The quest for answers leads him to stir up buried memories, about his own childhood and his wartime experiences. These flashbacks (honestly) feature some of the most affecting writing I’ve ever encountered in a mystery novel. Deeply moving, and emotionally true as a laser sight.

Cole is assisted, as he usually is, by his Psycho Killer Friend®, Joe Pike. (I’ve commented before on how detectives nowadays tend to have PKF’s. That’s probably an unfair description. Pike isn’t a psycho, just an obsessive, a man who’s stripped his life down to warrior efficiency, his friendship for Cole, and nothing else. The kind of man a Scandinavian Modern chair would be, if it were human.) But Pike isn’t 100% right now, due to a gunshot wound suffered in the previous installment.

I liked The Last Detective very much and intend to read more. Aside from the good, tight writing and the perfect emotional pitch, I particularly liked the way the military was treated. There are bad former soldiers in the book, but there’s no hint of the moral condescension you find in so many stories dealing with veterans (especially Vietnam veterans). Cole doesn’t beat a drum about his service (rather the opposite), but he’s got nothing to be ashamed of and he isn’t ashamed. Even a particular minor character, a shadowy former officer who now brokers mercenary deals, is portrayed as a man of honor.

I highly recommend The Last Detective.

3 thoughts on “The Last Detective, by Robert Crais”

  1. I think you’re on to something with the PKF theory. I read most of James Lee Burke’s Jack Robicheaux books and I can attest that detective Jack also has a PKF named Clete, who was his partner on the force before they both went private. Clete is gifted in the arts of violence and he is nuts. But you love him anyway.

  2. I liked your review of this book. Clearly you have read it 😉 (coded reference to the Lynne Scanlon post).

    I also like your PKF cliche alert. Harlen Coben has one — “Win” (forget surname) in the Myron Bolitar books, but he’s not alone.

    It reminds me a bit of those movies I used to see in the days when I went to the cinema regularly — VFS (Vietnam flashback syndrome). Seemed to be obligatory at one point there in the 1980s.

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