A new book in a beloved series is like a reunion with old friends. If there are no big surprises, who cares? It’s the little surprises that make it delightful.
In his latest Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novel, The Wanted, Elvis’s new client is Devon Cole, an ordinary single mother who’s deeply worried about her teenaged son Tyson. Tyson was always shy and awkward, so she was happy when he made friends in his new school. But now he’s started to wear clothing he can’t afford, and he’s sporting a Rolex wristwatch she’s pretty sure is the real McCoy. She also found a large amount of cash in his room.
Making the usual inquiries, Elvis is surprised to get pulled up short by the police. They’re seeking a gang of burglars who are hitting upscale homes, and they want to know what Elvis knows. But neither Elvis nor the police realize that young Tyson is already the most wanted person in LA – wanted by a couple of ruthless, psychopathic hit men who will not hesitate to torture and kill anyone they think possesses information that will lead them to the thieves. The whole thing could be sensibly handled through cooperating with the police, but Elvis soon learns that Tyson – and his loopy, thrill-seeking new girlfriend – have no interest in being sensible. Elvis will need all his own skills, plus the deadly skills of his taciturn, dangerous partner Joe Pike – to get the kids out of this mess alive.
The plot of The Wanted is pretty much what you’d expect, but that’s beside the point. As with every Robert Crais novel, the pleasure here is the small surprises, hidden within the living, many-faceted characters. Nobody here is made of cardboard – even the two stone killers have intriguing interior lives.
I highly recommend The Wanted. Cautions for language, violence, and adult situations.
I don’t think it counts as a spoiler to observe that when you pick up a novel advertised as an action thriller and it begins with a happy family doing ordinary stuff, something awful is about to happen.
And so it is in Robert Crais’ The First Rule. The man whose life is destroyed here is Frank Meyer, a guy who used to work for Joe Pike as a mercenary. The police inform Joe of this, and question him. The other victims of this particular gang of murderers and thieves have been involved in organized crime, so they figure Frank must have been dirty too. Joe cannot believe that. With the help of his friend and business partner, private detective Elvis Cole, Joe employs his formidable military skills to unravel a scheme involving prostitution, illegal arms sales, and a kidnapped baby.
Author Crais has intentionally moved the Elvis Cole series from straight mysteries to action thrillers, which means a bigger role for the mysterious and dangerous Joe Pike. This has been a good move, as Joe is one of those laconic characters – few words and economical but explosive action – who work extremely well in high tension stories. A particular pleasure in The First Rule is the ironic scenes showing Pike’s developing relationship with the rescued baby – all the more touching in contrast with Joe’s cold, focused, almost monastic persona.
It occurred to me as I read that there are theological implications here (certainly not intended by the author). Joe is the kind of rescuer every true victim dreams of, though often silently. He does not only inflict violence on evildoers – he is terrible (in the sense of inspiring terror) when he does it. People who live in relatively safe and just environments have trouble understanding the need for a terrible avenger. It’s not enough that the wicked should be slain – they should be frightened as they die. Modern westerners don’t generally understand the aspect of terror that belongs to the just God of the Bible, but the oppressed and the persecuted do.
Anyway, I recommend The First Rule for those who can handle the language and violence. First class action entertainment.
Robert Crais has been writing detective fiction at the top of the publishing pyramid for some time. His latest Elvis Cole novel, The Promise, is one of his best. Its pleasures are not only those of a well-crafted crime story. It also touches the heart in surprising ways.
I don’t know if author Crais picked the trick up from Dean Koontz, but he takes advantage of the opportunities offered by using a dog in a story. He did this first with his novel Suspect, which I reviewed here, and the same characters, K9 Officer Scott James and his dog Maggie, reappear here and help out. Maybe not everyone feels the way I do, but for me, working in a few scenes from a dog’s point of view raises the poignancy level of a book about 300%.
On top of that, there’s a human moment of what I can only call grace in the book that was deeply moving, and it came from a character from whom I didn’t expect it.
The plot? Oh yes, Elvis Cole is hired by a woman to find a co-worker who has disappeared. The missing woman recently lost her only son, a journalist, in a suicide bombing in North Africa. She’s gone off the radar and seems to be consorting with bad people. The investigation reveals a bundle of tangled threads and dissimulations. Elvis is assisted by his scary friend Joe Pike, and Joe’s scary mercenary friend Jon Stone.
A really good book. It’ll move you. Cautions for the usual.