Thursday, April 28, 2016

Southern California Dick

L.A. Requiem (Elvis Cole #8) (1999) by Robert Crais: The Southern California-set Elvis Cole hard-boiled detective series (well, soft-boiled -- Elvis is an emotional softy) always pays off in terms of tightly plotted, minutely detailed detective fiction, almost always with a large side portion of the procedural. There's a lot of procedural in this one, as the police and Cole investigate a murder together thanks to the power and influence of the victim's father. 

As was the case for several Cole novels, the only real drag is Lisa Chenier, Cole's love interest who sucks all the joy and energy out of the novel whenever she appears. It doesn't help that Cole suddenly inspires romantic obsession in a female L.A. cop in this one. Crais is at his best when delineating complicated investigations or dropping the occasional witticism. His romantic writing stinks.

L.A. Requiem stylistically  opened up the Cole series when it came out in 1999, mixing as it does the traditional first-person detective narration with third-person flashbacks involving Cole's hyper-competent detective pal Joe Pike and a number of other characters (including the killer) and third-person narration for events Cole is not present for. 

Overall, the novel's greatest strength lies in its depiction of the course of an investigation. The Los Angeles police are depicted sympathetically, for the most part, with a lot of nuts-and-bolts descriptions of just how a murder case is investigated. Good stuff. Recommended.

The Forgotten Man (Elvis Cole #10) (2005) by Robert Crais: Robert Crais explores L.A. private-eye Elvis Cole's tortured childhood in this novel, in which a man claiming to be Cole's long-vanished father is found murdered in an alley. As always, Crais's depiction of the details of an investigation is top-notch. The flashbacks are also fascinating, as are many of the supporting characters.

Crais also brings in a character from a non-Cole novel, Detective Starkey from Demolition Angel. She's a former bomb-squad officer forced into other police work after getting blown up. She's a fun counterpoint to Cole until she becomes romantically obsessed with him, a sub-plot that Crais used with another female cop in the earlier L.A. Requiem. And it's annoying here too. And while Cole is estranged from gal-pal/wet-blanket Lisa Chenier in this novel, she shows up just enough to put a damper on a number of scenes.

The novel is otherwise solid and twisty and thoroughly enjoyable. The indomitable Joe Pike appears, as does Cole's diffident pet cat. Crais opens up the narrative to third-person material not witnessed by Cole, who otherwise traditionally (for the hard-boiled detective) narrates in first person. The climax is thrilling, though it repeats certain plot elements from the earlier Cole novel L.A. Requiem. And the killer is fascinatingly depicted, though he shares a lot of similarities with the killer in L.A. Requiem. Maybe I shouldn't have read these books back to back. Recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Just read my first Cole/Crais novel, the debut THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT. Pretty solid detective novel, I thought; probably will read more. These later ones seem, from your review, more like mainstream novels.