Thursday, June 1, 2017

Crais Crais Crais Crais Crais

Sunset Express (1996) by Robert Crais: LA PI Elvis Cole and Zen super-soldier Joe Pike take on a case with more than a whiff of O.J. Simpson in this mystery-thriller. A prominent LA businessman and philanthropist sits in jail, accused of the murder of his wife. The high-priced legal team defending him hires Elvis to track down any leads that might exonerate the businessman. And that's really just the beginning. 

Detective work takes the wheel for much of this installment of the Cole/Pike chronicles, though the ending moves effortlessly into thriller territory. An enjoyable, fast-paced read with a cynical take on justice for the rich, marred only slightly by the inclusion of Elvis' girlfriend Lucy Chenier, Louisiana lawyer and most boring recurring character in the whole series. Crais is great at a lot of things, but scenes of love and romance really aren't in his wheelhouse. Recommended.

Demolition Angel (2000) by Robert Crais: Carol Starkey died for several minutes three years before the start of this novel, caught in the explosion of a bomb triggered by an earthquake while she and her superior officer on the Los Angeles bomb squad were trying to defuse it. The medics brought her back; her superior, also her lover, died at the scene. She's off the bomb squad now, a detective with more than a small drinking problem and a chain-smoking habit that apparently allows her to survive never eating. 

But now a mysterious bomber-for-hire dubbed 'Mr. Red' has come to LA. And he's not working for hire -- instead, he seems to be targeting bomb squad personnel. As the lead detective on the murder-by-bomb of a former colleague, Starkey soon finds herself the object of Mr. Red's attention. 

There's a whiff of the Clarice Starling/Hannibal Lecter relationship in this, but only a whiff. Mr. Red isn't a literature-loving genius -- he's an obsessive bomber with hacking skills thrown into the mix. Crais makes the world of bombs and bombers into a fascinating study of technique and art. Starkey is a compelling character, as are Mr. Red and the ATF agent who arrives to consult on the case early in the narrative. Recommended.

Hostage (2001) by Robert Crais: Jeff Talley is a former Los Angeles hostage negotiator and SWAT member who's moved to a small town near LA to escape the mental anguish of a failed hostage negotiation. Three years have passed, and the small-town quiet has done little to allow him to patch things up with his wife and daughter, much less move beyond the trauma. However, an extremely screwed-up hostage situation in his small bedroom community is about to force him out of his shell.

This Robert Crais novel was made into an OK Bruce Willis movie. I think. In any case, it's an extremely good thriller. Crais is a whiz at piquant, short-form characterization for both minor and major characters alike. Talley is a nicely drawn portrait of despair, PTSD, and dogged commitment to protecting others regardless of the cost to himself. The lead hostage-taker is a squirmy, obsessive kid whose characterization wouldn't be out of place in a Jim Thompson novel. Plot twists blow up every fifty pages or so as the narrative rockets along to its conclusion. Recommended.

The First Rule (2010) by Robert Crais: Joe Pike's career as a military contractor comes back into play when one of his former team members is brutally murdered along with his wife, children, and nanny in what looks like a home invasion by the same murderous thieves who've been terrorizing the LA suburbs for months. It is and it isn't. So Pike supplies the hyper-competent muscle and his partner Elvis Cole supplies the detectiving acumen as the two search for answers and vengeance. 

20 years into the Cole and Pike novels, Crais and his characters show no signs of series exhaustion: this is one of the two or three best of those novels, with surprises, detection, and action set-pieces splendidly balanced. Joe Pike even has some refreshing moments of introspection, the big laconic lug. Highly recommended.

The Promise (2015) by Robert Crais: Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are back to detect and kick ass in Los Angeles. They're joined by Scott James and Maggie, the K-9 handler and dog who were the protagonists of Crais' Suspect. There's a lot of highly involving, extremely interesting stuff about how K-9 handlers and their dogs do their work. Like pretty much everyone in the Crais universe, James and Maggie are suffering from the after-effects of violence-related PTSD. But Maggie is a good dog. A very good dog. And a former Marine! Solid, diverting work. Recommended.

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