Tag Archives: Robert Crais

‘The First Rule,’ by Robert Crais

The First Rule

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.

‘The Promise,’ by Robert Crais

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.

The Forgotten Man, by Robert Crais

Today I voted. In my little corner of the republic, we were faced with only two decisions, both of them education related. One was the election of school board members. I voted for none of them, since their bios in the local giveaway newspaper made them all look indistinguishable to me. Margaret Sanger crossed with John Dewey.

The big question was whether we wanted to approve a property tax increase for education. According to our lords and masters, our school district will soon be reduced to teaching the kids in one-room schoolhouses with dirt floors and wooden benches.

Come to think of it, that might not be bad. The kids who went to those one-room schools generally learned to read and do their sums. Our present system can’t make the same boast.

Of course my true reason for voting “No” is my selfishness and bigotry. As a bloated member of the plutocracy, my true fear is that the brilliant plans of the National Educational Association will be brought to fruition. If that should happen, all our children will become geniuses and paragons of postmodern virtue. In short order they will end poverty, cure all diseases, stop global warming, abolish war, and prove scientifically that there is no God. This threatens my vested interests and entrenched power, so I’m fighting a vicious, yet futile, rear guard action against the tide of history.

The Forgotten Man is another Robert Crais novel. It really isn’t my intention to review a string of Crais novels all in a row. If I were following my inclinations alone, I’d be reviewing a string of Stephen Hunter novels all in a row, but just at this point in my life I’m cutting back on book buying. So I’m only reading stuff I can check out of the library or find at Half Price Books. My library carries no Hunter, and I’ve bought everything HPB has by him at this point. So I picked up some Crais, and that’s no form of suffering at all. The more Crais I read, the better I like him.

Once again in this book, detective Elvis Cole is forced to deal with the shadows of his dysfunctional childhood. His mother, who was loving but psychotically delusional, always told him that his father (whose name he’s never known) was a human cannonball in a circus. In flashbacks we see how the young Cole ran away from home time after time, searching carnivals for the right daredevil, without any success.

But now, a possible father has come to him (sort of). An unidentified older man, bizarrely tattooed all over his body with religious pictures, has been murdered in an alley. The policewoman who heard his last words says he told her that he was Elvis Cole’s father, come to Los Angeles to find his son.

Cole has been elevated to public hero status by his last case, in which he rescued the kidnapped son of the woman he loves. But in the aftermath she moved away, deciding (and Cole knows she’s right) that being with him is too dangerous a life for a mother who has a child to protect. Since then Cole has been in a funk. He hasn’t even visited his office.

The one thing that could draw him out, though, is the chance to at last learn the identity of his father. He gets permission from the police to assist in the case. But the man is a ghost. He seems to have no name, no past. All Cole learns at first is that the man made several outcalls to prostitutes.

Not to sleep with them. To pray with them. To pray for forgiveness for sins he wouldn’t name.

The story also offers healthy helpings of familiar supporting characters like Joe Pike, Cole’s Psycho Killer Friend™, and Detective Carol Stark, the heroine of Demolition Angel (Crais fixed her up with an FBI agent at the end of that book, but apparently decided he could make better use of her if he had her shamelessly throwing herself at Cole, so he unattached her again).

I’ve been impressed, as I’ve read the Elvis Cole books, by the way in which Crais has deepened and enriched what started out as a fairly shallow, perpetually adolescent character, the kind of detective who wears Hawaiian shirts and decorates his office with Disney collectibles. But maybe I failed to recognize that this was Crais’ intention from the start. The clock on Cole’s wall is a Pinocchio clock, and the figurine on his desk is Jiminy Cricket. And what is Pinocchio but the puppet who needs to learn moral lessons in order to become a real boy?