Elvis Cole: The Monkey’s Raincoat (1987), Stalking the Angel (1989), Lullaby Town (1992), Free Fall (1993), Voodoo River (1995), Sunset Express (1996), Indigo Slam (1997), L.A. Requiem (1999), The Last Detective (2003), The Forgotten Man (2005), Chasing Darkness (2008), The Promise (2015)
Reading Order: The Monkey’s Raincoat (1987), Stalking the Angel (1989), Free Fall (1993), Voodoo River (1995), Lullaby Town (1992), Sunset Express (1996), Indigo Slam (1997), L.A. Requiem (1999), The Last Detective (2003), The Forgotten Man (2005), The Watchman (2007), Chasing Darkness (2008), The First Rule (2010), The Sentry (2011), Taken (2012)
The division between Elvis Cole books and Joe Pike books really isn't that distinct. You should really just read them in order as listed above.
This is another series I read after breaking my ankle, hence the first reviews being...short.
The Monkey’s Raincoat (1987)
Elvis Cole went to war, then he came back to the US and was a security guard for awhile, and then he became a private investigator, which is what he when Janet Simon drags her friend Ellen Lang into his office. Her husband and son have disappeared, and Ellen wants her son back. Unfortunately, the situation is not quite as it appears at first, and nothing seems to turn out well for anyone involved.
I did enjoy the story, although at times it felt an awful lot like a Spenser book. Mind you, I love Spenser, so that’s a good comparison, but he also needs his own voice and feel. Which he did have most of the time, but not enough that I didn’t occasionally make comparisons.
However, this is the first book in a series that has gone on for quite awhile, and the first book in a detective series seems to be where the author is getting a feel for the characters so I’m assuming those kinks are worked out relatively quickly (after all, Spenser in The Godwulf Manuscrpit is little like the Spenser of later books).
Of course there was action. And there was plenty of boinking, and I have to admit the boinking was a bit of an issue at times. I kept thinking, “Really? You really think she’d boink him right then?” But I got over it. The book was written in the late 80s after all.
So I definitely want to read more of the series–if nothing else a good hard boiled mystery is a nice romp away from reality.
Re-Read: March 2017
I read this series while I was recovering from my broken ankle, so I had very little memory of this book. In fact, I was 87% through the book before I came across a scene and thought “I remember that!”
Those were definitely some very good drugs I was taking.
So it’s almost like reading it for the first time.
The book was published in 1987. Which is why we have this:
“Did you go to college for that?”
“University of Southeast Asia. Two-year program.”
Outside, another police helicopter flew very low up the canyon and over the house. When I was little we lived near an air base and I was terrified that the airplanes and helicopters would scare away Santa Claus. Years later, in Vietnam, I grew to like the sound. It meant someone was coming to save me.
Payphones also make a repeated appearance, just so you know.
It doesn’t bother me, because the technology is the only thing that really feels dated. But I still like it; technology changed things significantly, but technology has been doing that for centuries: read anything set in the Napoleonic era and guns are unreliable. Victorian era, suddenly we have telegraphs.
I vaguely remember thinking that early Elvis Cole felt a good deal like Spenser, not just in the witty banter, but in the love of food and descriptions of cooking. And in the recognition that the crime stories of the past weren’t especially reality based.
On TV, a guy gets knifed or shot and he’s dead. In the world, dying takes a while and it smells bad.
I don’t think most people need to be told that anymore.
It still feels a bit like Spenser, but it’s also it’s own thing, and I did enjoy it–even if I remembered almost none of it.
Published by Bantam
Stalking the Angel (1989)
In the second Elvis Cole book, Elvis is hired to find a missing ancient manuscript. He doesn’t much like the guy hiring him, and he doesn’t much like the job he’s hired for, but he takes the job anyway.
In doing so he learns a bit (nothing good) about the Japanese mafia.
Free Fall (1993)
Jennifer Sheridan wants to hire Elvis to find out what is wrong with her fiancee. He’s a cop, and he hasn’t been the same for several months, and she thinks he’s in some kind of trouble and she wants Elvis to find out what it is–and if possible how she can get him out of trouble.
Pretty quickly, however, things turn pear-shaped, and nothing looks the way its supposed to.
Voodoo River (1995)
Elvis is hired to find the natural parents of TV star Jodie Taylor, who was given up for adoption immediately after her birth, and whose adoption records remain sealed by the courts.
The case takes a turn for the worse when Cole discovers there is a whole lot more going on than anyone involved is willing to let on.
The one thing I do like is that although there are bad guys who are simply that, bad, other characters are far more complex and nuanced. My only problem with this story is I saw a major plot twist coming, and so was frustrated with Cole for not seeing it as well.
Published by Hyperion
Lullaby Town (1992)
The 3rd book in the Elvis Cole series finds Elvis hired by a famous (and perhaps infamous) move producer, to find his ex-wife and son, who the producer abandoned soon after the birth of his son. Lucky Elvis: the producer is an asshole, the woman doesn’t want to be found, and when Elvis does find her, things get even more complex and confusing.
Another quick but fun read–just the thing when you want to take your mind off life and get sucked into an adventure.
Nothing unusual or out of this world, but a perfect escape read, which is precisely what I needed.
Published by Bantam
Sunset Express (1996)
A woman is found murdered, and her husband becomes the immediate suspect. However, when he hires a celebrity lawyer to defend him, stories start appearing in the case, and Elvis is hired to see if any of those hole in the case are real.
And in the middle of this, Lucy, who Elvis has been seeing for awhile, comes into town on business, so Elvis has to juggle an increasingly confusing and complex case, as well as an increasingly complex love life. (Only that makes it sounds like Lucy is really horrible, and she totally isn’t.)
I actually quite liked the way this mystery came together, as well as the in-depth look of Elvis’ relationship with Lucy and Ben.
Indigo Slam (1997)
Three kids walk into Elvis Cole’s office, because they want to hire him to find their father. To make things more complicated, the book opens with the three children and their father being evacuated by the US Marshals as (we quickly realize) part of the witness protection program.
The children (the oldest of whom is 15) are used to being left alone, however, Elvis is not happy with the idea of three children living on their own, and so checks out their situation. Meanwhile, Lucy is in negotiations for a job in LA, and Elvis is trying to keep from influencing her decision but is really hoping she moves.
Once again, Elvis reminds me in many ways of Spenser. This isn’t a bad thing, however, because they are similar, I do keep drawing comparisons between the two, which is mildly distracting.
Doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying the books–because I most certainly am–just means Elvis Cole still feels an awful lot like Spenser. But that’s OK, because there need to be more men like Elvis and Spenser in the world.
Only thing I didn’t like was the single paragraph at the end of the book regarding Lucy’s ex-husband. That felt entirely too much like the opening of the next book rather, which is something I generally dislike. However, since the main plot of the story was not Lucy, I suppose it wasn’t that horrible of a thing to do. I guess I just didn’t like the parallels to the Spenser plot where Spenser has to deal with Susan’s personal problems, which was my least favorite book in the series.
L.A. Requiem (1999)
Although this is an Elvis Cole novel, the heart of the story is really about Joe Pike. As Lucy and Ben are settling into L.A., Joe asks Elvis to help him solve the murder of a women with whom he was once involved. In searching for the killer, we learn not just about Joe’s past involvement with Karen (the murdered woman) but also catch glimpses of his childhood and his time in the Marines. We also see the incident that drove Pike from the police.
Although I was unsure how a novel could be centered on Joe–who is silent and taciturn–the opposite of Elvis Cole, really–the desire to learn what made Joe who he is draws you in.
We also see Lucy’s realization about what Elvis really does, and how this affects his life–and eventually hers.
The Last Detective (2003)
Lucy has gone away for business, and Ben has been staying with Elvis. But within moments of Lucy touching down at the airport, Ben is snatched from Elvis’ porch, and a caller blames the kidnapping upon the time Elvis spent in Vietnam.
While Elvis searches for Ben and tries to figure out who could possibly even make a guess as to what happened in the jungle, Lucy’s ex Richard flies to LA to try and makes the situation even worse.
I rather quickly figured out why Ben was kidnapped and at who’s instigation, so that wasn’t a surprise, but with the foreshadowing in previous books, I don’t suppose it was supposed to be much of a secret. However, I think they did a good job building up to this.
The Forgotten Man (2005)
Lucy is gone, and Elvis is struggling to keep himself together. The events of the last book made him the center of attention, and the notoriety is something he seems ill equipped to deal with, especially while also attempting to deal with his loss.
When Elvis is called in because a seemingly homeless man carrying copies of articles about Cole claims in his dying breath to be Cole’s father, Elvis has to discover the truth, even if he doesn’t believe the dead man could be his father.
We again learn more of Elvis’ past, from his childhood and how he got his name, to the problems his mother had and how he ended up a private detective.
The Watchman (2007)
When he had to help Elvis recover Ben Cheney in The Last Detective, Joe made a deal with the men he used to work with when he was a mercenary–at their request he would do one job for him. Now the pigeons are coming home to roost and he has to keep an heiress safe when the Witness Protection program fails her.
To make matters more difficult, the heiress/witness is a known party girl who is used to having things her own way, and there is a leak somewhere on the inside, because the safe-houses are getting hit almost as soon as the girl is placed in them.
We also get a few more bits and pieces about Joe’s past. Though the major events appeared in L.A. Requiem, we still learn a bit more about him, and what make him the way he is.
One thing I really like about this series (that has absolutely nothing to do with the story arc of the book) is that when Joe & Elvis get shot, they take damage and then have to take time to heal (this is very similar to the reason why I love Robert B. Parker’s “Small Vices” so much). I also like how characters and events from the past can affect current events, yet you don’t have to know the details of those past events to enjoy the current story.
As I said earlier, although this is a Joe Pike book, we spend plenty of time with Elvis, which is a good thing because Elvis’ sense of humor is important to alleviating the darkness of the story and of Joe’s past.
If you like the Elvis Cole novels, don’t miss this one, even though it is marketed as “A Joe Pike Novel.” The two characters are so interrelated at this point, you can’t have one without the other.
Published by Pocket Star Books
Chasing Darkness (2008)
Elvis seems to have recovered from the events in The Forgotten Man, however, life doesn’t seem to be interested in taking it easy on him. He’s sitting in his office when two cops storm on to demand his notes on a case from years ago. A man he had proved innocent of the murder of a young prostitute is found dead in his home, a horrifying photo album discovered with his corpse.
One of the cops–incidentally the arresting officer in the original case who had forced a false confession from the man–gets in Elvis’ face and makes Elvis what to know what he possibly could have missed in the case.
SPOILER (rot 13)
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I really enjoyed this story; it was good to see Elvis back to normal, and I enjoyed seeing some of the other characters from past stories make appearances.
One note: I still DESPISE these “tall” paperbacks. HATE them.
The First Rule (2010)
Frank Meyer, his family, and their au pair are brutally murdered by a gang of burglars. Except that this looks far more like an execution than a burglary gone wrong, and Frank was not just ex-military but was also a mercenary (now retired) with Joe Pike. When Joe finds out that Frank and his family have been murdered, he is determined to solve the murder and get revenge upon the gang that killed Frank’s family.
This is another Joe Pike novel, and although Elvis Cole makes several appearances, this story is about Pike, and spends most of the story with him.
I’m still trying to decide how I feel about this story.
The Elvis Cole mysteries are hard boiled, but with the glib tone and dialog that made me love Robert B Parker‘s Spenser so much.
Joe is an entirely different story. Joe is neither glib nor witty, and speaks very little. Even though this book is from Pike’s POV, he is still a mystery, and in fact by the end of the story I’m even less sure about him that I was when we first met him.
Pike was a mercenary. He never tried to hide this any more than I chose to brag about it, it just is who he was, and suited his personality and world view exceedingly well. The problem is that the books have pushed that to the background, focusing on how he helped Elvis, and the clients their detective agency hires. (Much, I must say, the way Hawk’s life of crime is ignored by Spenser. Hawk is a bad guy, and we know it, but we don’t really see it.)
This story shows us why Joe was such a very good mercenary, why most of the cops (even the ones who didn’t know him when he was on the force) hate him, and why he chose to be co-owner of the detective agency with Elvis.
Joe Pike believes in right and wrong, and has no about qualms taking action when there has been a wrong. This is a problem where the legalities are concerned, because what is right (especially what is right to Joe) quite frequently has little or no bearing upon what is legal.
Elvis gets himself into bad situations where he has to take the life of another person in self-defense or in defense of another person. But it has always been in a life or death situation.
Joe Pike doesn’t necessarily see these niceties, and does what he believes needs to be done. In fact, multiple characters in this book are that way, and this is a hard thing for me to accept. It also leads me to wonder whether Joe is right and justified in his actions, and whether he truly does belong in a society of law and order.
That’s a surprising thing to spend time considering at the end of a best selling thriller.
If you have not read a mystery by Robert Crais before, I highly recommend this one, and although you can read it without having read the previous books in the series, I can’t decide if having done so changes the complexity of this story.
Regardless, it’s highly recommended.