books

Robert Crais

Books

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)

Joe Pike: L.A. Requiem (1999), The Watchman (2007), The First Rule (2010), The Sentry (2011), Taken (2012)

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.

 

Elvis Cole

 

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 is 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.
Rating: 6/10

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.”

“Vietnam?”

“Unh-huh.”

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.
Rating: 7.5/10

Published by Bantam

Stalking the Angel (1989)

Synopsis:

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.
Rating: 7/10

Re-Read: March 2017

Elvis Cole is hired to find an ancient Japanese manuscript stolen from the home of a prominent businessman. Unfortunately for Cole, the husband is an asshole and the wife makes it clear she doesn’t like her husband and what he does. And caught in the middle of all that is a teenager daughter. The theft pulls him into the Asian criminal gangs operating in LA.

Now I remember why I enjoyed this series so much.

Elvis Cole is irreverent and snarky and this book opens with just how irreverent he can be.

I was standing on my head in the middle of my office when the door opened and the best looking woman I’d seen in three weeks walked in. She stopped in the door to stare, then remembered herself and moved aside for a grim-faced man who frowned when he saw me.

Another thing this story does is reminds you of his daily routine–that he starts out the day working out. His choices are yoga and various martial arts, but it’s there to let you know that he works to be fit and about to fight.

This makes me laugh, although I wonder if anyone younger than me would get it.

Two guys came in from the L.A. County Medical Examiners Office, but neither of them looked like Jack Klugman.

This story also explains why Elvis Cole is the way he is, with an office full of Disney memorabilia and an attitude of refusing to take anything series.

Ever since Nam, you’ve worked hard to hang onto the childhood part of yourself. Only here’s a kid who never had a childhood and you wanted to get some for her before it was too late.

Since this book was published almost 30 years ago, I don’t really fear spoilers.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Bantam

Lullaby Town (1992)

Synopsis:

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.
Rating: 7/10

Published by Bantam

Re-Read: March 2017

The third Elvis Cole book finds Elvis searching for the ex-wife of a big-shot movie producer, because after ten years he’d decided he wants to see his son.

“Everybody in his life is there because they want to screw him. Any time there’s a woman, he’s thinking it’s because she wants to rip him off. Any time a guy says he’s Peter’s friend, it’s because he wants to be in business with Peter Alan Nelsen the big deal, not Peter Alan Nelsen, the guy. She said it as if we were just standing there, as if Peter Alan Nelsen wasn’t an outsized yolk across her shoulders.

I said, “He’s got to be getting heavy.”

She smiled softly, “I can hold him all night.”

And that is my favorite character in this book.

Again, this was published in 1992, so there are references that crack me up, but I wonder if they’d go right over the heads of anyone younger than me.

I copied her address along with her phone number and put them (phone)book back in it’s case, still complete, still immaculate. Jim Rockford would’ve ripped out the page, but Jim Rockford was an asshole.

Rockford Files re-runs came on after I got home from school, and my mom would have them running on the background while she did other things.

And to be honest, those references are really the only things that feel particularly dated. Elvis as a human being you could plop down here and he’d be just fine.

As with the other books, there is not black-and-white / good-and-evil, there are just people that Elvis deals with. Sometimes those people are good, but most of the time, they aren’t.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Bantam Books

Free Fall (1993)

Synopsis:

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.
Rating: 7/10

Re-Read: March 2017

Book four of the Elvis Cole series. This is another one I don’t much remember reading.

I do like this bit at the beginning.

This edition contains the complete text of the original hardcover edition.

NOT ONE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED.

Considering that I found some odd typos, I’m wondering if that was why they put that it. ‘No no no! That’s EXACTLY like the paper book! We thought you wanted to errors!’

Regardless, Elvis is hired by a young woman who believes her fiancee, who is a police officer, is in trouble.

Jennifer Sheridan had sounded young on the phone, but in person she looked younger, with a fresh-scrubbed face and clear healthy skin and dark auburn hair. Pretty. The kind of happy, innocent pretty that starts deep inside, and doesn’t stop on the way out. That kind of pretty.

Pike looked up from the report. “We’re squaring off against five LAPD officers, and all we’re getting paid is forty bucks?”

“Nope. We’re also getting forty dollars per month for the next forty-nine months.”

Pike shook his head.

“Think of it as job security, Joe. Four years of steady income.”

We do get bits of the time the book was written.

I made hissing and cracking noises into the phone. “I’m calling from the new car phone. Pretty good, huh?”

Rusty Swetaggen said, “Bullshit, you got a car phone.”

As I said before, those bits crack me up, because they put the book in a very specific time, but aside from the technological parts, the characters and situations don’t feel especially dated. (But there are plenty of bits that would be so very different just ten years later.) Take this bit.

A woman I know gave me a build-it-yourself bird-feeder kit for Christmas, so I built it, and hung it from the eve of my roof high enough to keep the birds safe from my cat. But the birds scratch the seed out of the feeder, then fly down to the deck to eat the seed. They know there’s a cat, but still they go down to pick at the seed. When you think about it, people are often like this, too.

The sink and the tub and the toilet were filmed with the sort of built-up grime that comes of long-term inattention, as if Riggens used these things and left, expecting that someone else would clean them, only the someone never showed and never cleaned.

Those bits could be at any time.

This book we meet another character I especially like.

Ray Depente looked my way and gave embarrassed. “These kids think this movie stuff is a big deal. They don’t know. A client’s a client.”

“Sure.”

“I’ve got a class.”

“Sure.”

A dozen little girls came in, shepherded by a tall erect black woman in a neat dress suit. Most of the little girls were black, but a couple were Hispanic. They all wore clean white karate gies and tennis shoes. They took off their shoes before they stepped onto the mat.

Ray uncrossed his arms and smiled. “Here they are, now.”

I like the complex characters Elvis interacts with, and I like the complexity of Elvis. Plus, I always enjoy reading about food.

This book is quite dark with a lot of death, and I found parts of it difficult to read, but that realism is what I like so much about the books.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Bantam

Voodoo River (1995)

Synopsis:

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.
Rating: 7/10

Published by Hyperion

Re-Read: March 2017

Famous actress Jodi Taylor has come to Elvis Cole for help in finding her birth parents.

Jodi Taylor was thirty-six years old, and beautiful in the way that only women with a measure of maturity can be beautiful. Not like in a fashion magazine. Not like a model. There was a quality of realness about her that let you feel that you might meet her at a supermarket or in church or at the PTA.

She was adopted as a baby, and wants to know if there are any medical issues of which she should be aware.

Which is how Elvis ends up in Louisiana.

“Whatchu say ’bout dat boudin now?” I said,

“Tell me the truth, Dottie. This isn’t really Ville Platte, is it? We’re all dead and this is Heaven.” S

he grinned wider and nodded, satisfied. “Dottie say it’ll fix you up. Dottie know.” She touched her cheek beneath her left eye and then she laughed and turned away.

Of course things are never quite as they seem, and things get complicated for Elvis quite quickly. But that brings me to one of the things I especially like about Elvis Cole. He all man, but he’s not macho and is honest about himself to himself.

I watched them leave, then went to my room and tried to let myself in, but I couldn’t get the key in the lock. I tried as hard as I could, and then I sat on the sidewalk with my hands between my knees and pressed my knees together to try to make myself stop shaking. I pressed for a very long time, and finally the shaking stopped.

This was another book I didn’t particularly remember–they were very good drugs I was taking for my broken ankle, apparently. And there were of course bits showing the age of the story which amused me.

Ben ate quickly, then asked to be excused and raced to the TV so that he could watch Star Trek— The Next Generation.

But of course most of the story stands outside of those few scenes. Like this:

The cat came in while I was thinking about it, and hopped up onto the counter the way he does when he’s hoping I won’t notice. You could see his nostrils working, smelling the steak. I said, “Bet you missed me, huh?”

He made a little cat nod.

I carved a piece of steak, then put the cat and the steak on the floor. He sniffed once, then went to work on the meat. I said, “I missed you.”

I love that he has an anti-social cat, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a softie.

And there are of course the loving descriptions of food. I’m beginning to think that there is some strange link between strong male mystery leads and lavish descriptions of food.

Not that I mind at all.
Rating: 7.5/10

Published by Hachette Books

Sunset Express (1996)

Synopsis:

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.
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: April 2017

Book six of the Elvis Cole series.

A high profile murder of the wife of a very rich businessman brings in a high-profile lawyer. When they hire Elvis Cole to look into the arresting officer, everything seems to be going normally, until suddenly it all gets strange.

In the middle of this, Lucy Chenier and her son Ben come for a working visit (Lucy working, Ben vacationing).

I said, “How do you know it was me? Maybe it was an imposter.”

Lucy crossed her arms and considered me. “Now that you mention it, the man on television was devastatingly handsome and darkly mysterious.”

I said, “Oh. That was me.”

Lucy was beaming. “We just turned on the news and there you were.”

There are so many little things I like about this story. Take this bit.

A homeless man with a shopping cart filled with neatly folded cardboard squares was seated beneath the phone, but he graciously moved aside when I told him I needed to make some calls. He said, “Please feel free. It is, after all, a public instrument.” He was wearing spats.

The homeless man said, “You see? When we force events we corrupt them. Your flexibility allowed events to unfold in a way that pleases you. We know this as synchronicity.”

“You’re a very wise man. Thank you.”

He spread his hands. “To possess great wisdom obliges one to share it. Enjoy.”

That is such a marvelous bit. It kinda makes me wish I was a big burly guy so I can talk to strangers without fear.

Plus, I love his cat.

(T)he cat walked in. He froze in the center of the kitchen floor and growled.

I said, “Knock that off.”

He moved through the kitchen, stopping every couple of steps, his cat nose working and the growl soft in his chest. I said, “We’re going to have guests for a few days, and if you bite or scratch either one of them it will go hard for you.”

I miss my cat, who could also be a jerk.

This is the first book where there is no mention of past military service in Vietnam. (I’m keeping track because I know it happens in at least two other mystery series.)

Joe Pike is six foot one, with long ropey muscles, dark hair cut short, and bright red arrows tattooed on the outside of each deltoid. He got the tattoos in a faraway place long before it was stylish for rock stars and TV actors and Gen X rave queens to flash skin art.

Elvis is completely himself in this book–he’s in love with Lucy and not afraid to show it, he’s still a smart-ass, but gets in less trouble. The mystery is good, the dialog is sharp, and it’s just a fun book.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Hyperion

Indigo Slam (1997)

Synopsis:

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.
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: April 2017

The book opens three years previously, with a father and three children being evacuated by US Marshals. This is actually important, because then the reactions make far more sense to the reader (even if they don’t make sense to Elvis).

Lucy Chenier is working out a deal to move to LA, and Elvis is is distracted by that until three children show up in his office asking him to search for their father.

She smiled warmly at Teresa. “He won’t call them just yet, dear, but we’ll have to consider that as we go.”

Now I frowned at Lucy. “What’s this ‘we’ business?”

Lucy squeezed tighter. “But don’t you worry about that for now, Teri. Right now, he’s going to find your father.”

I said, “I am?”

Lucy turned the warm smile my way. “Of course you are. If you know what’s good for you.”

This is another book that I really don’t remember reading.

Important things I forgot:
Lucy’s ex trying to derail her moving to LA

“I could just shoot him. That would solve the problem.”

She smiled, and it was warm. “I know, but then you would have saved me, and I wouldn’t have saved myself. This is for me.”

The Russians
The drug use
The dong (no, not THAT dong)

Essentially, I pretty much forgot the whole book.

But again, I was reminded of the many things I like about Elvis and this series.

My home had been invaded, and I could either let my feelings for the place be changed by that event or not, but either way would be my choice. The event is what you make of it.

I spent the next two hours cleaning both bathrooms and the kitchen and the floors. I threw out my toothbrush and opened a new one, and I washed the sheets and pillowcases and towels. I pulled the plates and the silver from the cupboards and drawers and loaded them into the dishwasher, and vacuumed the couch and the chairs and the carpets. I scrubbed the floors hard, and spent the remains of the day cleaning and drinking until, very early the next morning, I had once more made peace with my home.

That’s something one wouldn’t expect a manly-man to feel–stressed out by having his home searched, but I love that he does feel that, and that it give the reader permission to feel stressed out about things in their lives. After all, if a manly ass-kicking detective can be distressed, then anyone can.

And one last nod to the time this was written:

I could see Ben on the floor surrounded by Incredible Hulk comic books while he watched Babylon 5.

First ST: TNG, then Babylon 5, and he name checks all kinds of books as well. But the SF just makes me gleeful.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Hyperion

L.A. Requiem (1999)

Synopsis:

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.
Rating: 9/10

Re-Read: April 2017

Lucy Chenier and her son Ben have moved to LA, and they soon learn that there is a great difference between a long distance relationship and being together in the same town.

Would you please move the couch again?”

I stared at the couch. I had moved it maybe eight hundred times in the last two days. “Which wall?”

She chewed at her thumb, thinking. “Over there.”

“That’s where it was two moves ago.”

It was a big couch. It probably weighed three thousand pounds.

“Yes, but that was when the entertainment center was by the fireplace. Now that we’ve put the entertainment center by the entry, the look will be completely different.”

“We?”

“Yes. We.”

I bent into the couch and dragged it to the opposite wall. Four thousand pounds.

Of course all this moving is interrupted by a call from Pike–the daughter of a friend is missing, could Elvis please come help with the search.

Thus begins and downward spiral of absolutely everything going wrong for Elvis.

I drank a can of the Falstaff while I was waiting in line, and got disapproving looks from the other shoppers. I pretended not to notice. They probably hadn’t spent the day with a young woman with a hole in her head.

I’ll note that this book explicitly mentions that Pike was in Vietnam.

This book also goes into something I noted with this series as well as with Spenser.

I found peace in the small motor activity… To cook is to heal.

This book also gives us a great deal of Joe Pike’s back story, while Elvis’ life is falling apart.

Despite all the terrible things that happen to Elvis, I think this book feels true and real. Lucy may have thought she understood what Elvis did and who he was, but she didn’t really, and I don’t think her reaction was incorrect, given who she is. It’s hard, but I think it’s true.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Ballantine Books

The Last Detective (2003)

Synopsis:

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.
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: April 2017

This is the 9th Elvis Cole book, and we learn a LOT here, from some of Cole’s family history

His name was Philip James Cole until he was six years old. Then his mother announced, smiling at him as if she were giving him the most wonderful gift in the world, “I’m going to change your name to Elvis. That’s a much more special name than Philip and James, don’t you think? From now on, you’re Elvis.”

to Cole’s time in Vietnam (and yes, Vietnam is explicitly mentioned).

Starkey glanced up from the pictures.

“You don’t look old enough for Vietnam.”

“I wasn’t.”

The previous book, and this book, make it explicit that Cole and Pike went to Vietnam in the last years of the war, and both when in under 18.

“Who’s this guy, Ranger?”

“His name was Ted Fields, not Ranger. A Ranger is a kind of soldier. Some guys were so proud of being Rangers they got the tattoo. Ted was proud.”

“What do Rangers do?”

“Push-ups.”

Elvis took the photo from Ben and put it back into the cigar box. Ben grew worried that Elvis would stop answering his questions, so he snatched up one of the blue cases and opened it.

“What’s this?”

Elvis took the case, closed it, then put it back into the cigar box.

“They call it a Silver Star. That’s why there’s a little silver star in the center of the gold star.”

“You have two.”

“The Army had a sale.”

I feel like that second passage is something that would be common to soldiers from Vietnam–the war was unpopular in the US and most soldiers came home to the attitude that what they had done was shameful (despite the fact most had been drafted against their will).

Which is what makes that part of this story so fascinating. Soldiers from WWII came home and didn’t talk about what they did, not because they were ashamed, but because they didn’t know how to talk about it. Soldiers from Vietnam came home and tried to hide. But for the past 20 years, soldiers coming home from the Gulf have been lionized–whether they feel they deserve it or not.

This is the first of the Elvis Cole books to make me cry, not in the descriptions of Ben’s kidnapping or the destruction of Cole’s relationship with Lucy because of Ben’s kidnapping, but because of the scenes where Elvis calls the families of the men in his group who died. Because it wasn’t just the soldiers who came back from Vietnam who suffered, but also the families of those soldiers who never came back that suffered in silence.

This story is dark–extremely dark–there is a child in danger, and we experience his danger. We relive Cole’s past. We suffer with Cole and Lucy as they slowly go mad with worry for Ben.

But there are still parts that made me giggle.

“Oh, yeah, it was a sixty-seven Ford four-door factory panel Econoline with the original trim. Crack in the left front windshield and spot rust on the lamps, no caps.”

No hubcaps.

I asked him to describe the two men, but he didn’t remember either.

I said, “You saw the van had rust spots around the headlights, but you can’t describe the men?”

“It’s a classic, yo? Me and my bro, Jésus, we’re Econoheads, yo? We’re rebuilding a sixty-six. We even got a website, yo? You should check it out.”

One of the interesting things about the kidnapping is that it didn’t come out of the blue–it was foreshadowed several books back, in what felt like a throw-away passage. The same happens here, when a brief conversation between Pike and a man who manages mercenaries.

This is a hard book to read, but it tells so much about Cole–and even Pike–that it is worth the hard parts.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Doubleday

The Forgotten Man (2005)

Synopsis:

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.
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: April 2017

The 10th Elvis Cole book.

The story opens with the discovery of a brutal murder–the bodies of mother, father, and son are found, along with the bloody footprints of their unharmed four-year-old daughter. The girl is physically unharmed, but no one involved leaves that home unchanged.

Padilla was relieved when Alvarez left. Part of him wanted to do the cop work of finding the perps, but more of him had assumed the role of protecting the little girl. She was calm, so protecting her meant preserving her calm, though he worried about what might be happening in that little head. Maybe her being so calm was bad. Maybe a child like this shouldn’t be calm after what happened.

Meanwhile, Elvis is a shell of a man, going through the motions of living, trying to get over the events of the previous book, and missing Lucy and Ben to the point he barely sleeps.

In my fantasies, my own mother loved me as much; my own father cared. That Lucy gave up so much for her child left me loving her more and wanting her more and willing to sacrifice anything to nurture her love. What she gave Ben was everything I had wanted for myself; what she was to him was everything I had been denied by my own parents.

So when he is called to the scene of a crime, because the dead man claimed to be Elvis’ father, Elvis become intrigued, even though he doesn’t believe the man could have been his rather.

The dead man had a head like a praying mantis and I had a head like a rutabaga. I didn’t look anything like him. Nothing like him.

We also get glimpses into Elvis’ past, mostly from the point-of-view of the detective who repeatedly found him when he ran away from home, searching for his father.

“Kid, I don’t have any doubt you’ll find him, but be careful what you wish for. Whoever he is, he won’t be anything like you imagine.”

“I don’t care.”

“I know you think that now, but once you find him, you can’t unfind him. He’ll be part of you forever.”

We’re in 2005 now, but the world isn’t quite our own.

LAPD’s SWAT is headquartered at Central, as is the elite uniformed Metro Division. Like the other police stations in Los Angeles, it was known as a Division until someone decided that Division made the police sound like an occupying army. Now we had Community Police Stations, which sounded user-friendly.

But it is getting very close.

No mention of Vietnam or military service at all here.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Doubleday

The Watchman (2007)

After the events in The Forgotten Man, Elvis is recovering, so Joe Pike takes center stage in this story (don’t worry, we get to spend time with Elvis).

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.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Pocket Star Books

Re-Read: May 2017

To help Elvis Cole find Ben Chenier, the son of his girlfriend, Joe Pike agreed to do one last job for Jon Stone. That job has come: Defend a wealthy, spoiled heiress from the men who want to kill her, for what she saw during an accident.

“Why don’t I eat first? The Pikester won’t feed me. He only wants sex.”

Cole said, “He’s like that with me, too, but we’ve learned to adjust.”

Cole himself is recovering from the events of the previous book. Some of these parts remind me of my favorite Spenser book, Small Vices, because after almost dying, it takes a long time to get back to close to where you were before. I really like when stories that acknowledge that. (Pike also had a long rehabilitation after almost being killed in an earlier book.)

The young woman is a brat who does everything she can to irritate Pike, but she’s clean and sober, probably because it would have been nearly impossible if she wasn’t.

We also get more of Pike’s back story here, and there is no mention if Vietnam.

“My name is Joe Pike. I’m not married. I pulled two combat tours in the Marines—”

The shift broke into wild applause and cheers, with many of the officers shouting “Semper fi.” LAPD had a high percentage of Marine Corps veterans.

“I qualified as a scout/ sniper and served in Force Recon, mostly on long-range reconnaissance teams, hunter/ killer teams, and priority target missions. I’m black belt qualified in tae kwon do, kung fu, wing chun, judo, and ubawazi. I like to run and work out. I like to read.”

I love the line that comes after that.

Finally, an older black P-III with salt-and-pepper hair said, “Thank God he likes to read— I thought we had us a sissy.”

But not only is there no mention of Vietnam, lines are thrown in to make one think Pike and Cole served elsehwere.

Cole grinned at the girl. “Nice neighborhood. Reminds me of Fallujah.”

I also like how we get to see what Cole contributes to their partnership. It often feels like Pike is coming in and saving Elvis, but here we see that Cole has skills that mesh well with Pike’s. Plus a little glimpse of why they are friends.

The trick was to reach a place where the inside person and the outside person were the same. The closer someone got to this place, the stronger they would become. Pike believed that Cole was such a person, his inside and outside very close to being one and the same. Pike admired him for it. Pike also pondered whether Cole had accomplished this through design and effort, or was one with himself because oneness was his natural state. Either way, Pike considered this a feat of enormous import and studied Cole to learn more.

The mystery itself jumped all over, making you doubt just what was going on, but I thought it was well done, and I enjoyed the whole story.

Even if Pike is nowhere near as amusing as Elvis.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Simon & Schuster

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)
Bayl guvat V qvqa’g ohl jnf gung Wbr naq Ryivf qvqa’g sberfrr Wbnaan tbvat nsgre Yril. Pbzr ba, gur jbzna nyernql zheqrerq va pbyq oybbq gur zna fur oryvrirq unq xvyyrq ure fvfgre. Gung fur jbhyqa’g tbg nsgre gur zna jub unq npghnyyl xvyyrq ure fvfgre NAQ frg ure hc jnf n ovg zhpu gb npprcg.

Bgurejvfr, V gubhtug gur ragver frg-hc naq cybg jnf snohybhf–V arire fnj Yril nf gur xvyyre, rira gubhtu nyy gur fvtaf jrer gurer.
END SPOILER

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.
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: May 2017

This story switches back to Elvis, who seems to be recovered from almost dying.

And his cat is still old and a jerk who doesn’t like anyone except Cole and Pike.

He was sitting by his dish where he waits for breakfast, only this time he brought his own. The hindquarters of a tree rat were on the floor by his feet.

The cat blinked at me. Proud. Like I should fall to and dig in.

He said, “Mmrh.”

“Good job, m’man. Yum.”

I cleaned it up with paper towels, then gave him a can of tuna. He growled when I threw away the legs, but the tuna helped him get over it.

It’s nice how the cat doesn’t age any more than Elvis and Joe do. :)

Oh, right. The mystery.

A body is discovered during a wildfire evacuation. A man shot through the head, with a photo book of murdered women in front of him. The man had been accused of the murder of one of the women, but an investigation by Cole had gotten him off, showing the man was somewhere else at the time, but now it looks like the man had been a murderer, and continued his spree after being released.

This story was also a maze of twisty passages all alike, but I liked it for that.

Also, no mention of Vietnam–just that Cole had gone to war.

I had seen similar shrines when I returned from the war and sought out the parents of friends who had died.

Cole also spends more time with Starkey, who is still in love with him, but won’t say anything. Pike knows, but being Pike he won’t say anything either, so Cole is oblivious while Starkey is miserable about the whole thing.

“See the drugstore ahead on the right? Pull over and give me twenty bucks.”

Starkey returned a few minutes later with a two-pound box of chocolates and a fresh pack of cigarettes.

And again, one of the things I especially like about Cole is that he not only feels fear, but admits it. (Pike just doesn’t feel fear.)

I pushed through the hedges into the neighbors’ yard and saw Pike’s Jeep in the street. I probably should have walked, but I ran as hard as I could without looking back and without caring who saw me.

I jammed into Pike’s Jeep with the box in my lap, and Pike gunned away, the door snapping shut so hard it hammered my elbow.

Pike said, “Close.”

My eyes burned as I laughed. It was a stupid laugh, like a barking dog. I couldn’t stop until Pike gripped my arm.

I do like this series–even if Elvis Cole has stopped in time. (I wonder if that’s why things couldn’t work out with Lucy–a child can’t forever remain unaging in a book. It’s weird.)
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Simon & Schuster

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.
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: May 2017

I really thought I hadn’t read this book–aside from the very beginning (the murder) none of it seemed familiar. It seems like I read it in the months before Grandmom died, so that explains that distraction.

Apparently re-reading this series is just like reading it for the first time, since I barely remember anything from the first time around.

A couple things. Chen has been toned down, which is nice. I almost hated reading his scenes because he was so annoying. And technology is definitely changing.

Chen handed Pike a pair of blue paper booties. “Gotta put these over your shoes, okay?”

Technology changes. No wandering around the scene of a crime without leaving trace evidence anymore.

Regarding Pike’s military service, like Cole’s, Vietnam is no longer mentioned, and it’s implied his service was in the Middle East.

When Pike met Frank for the first time, Frank was fresh out of eight years in the Marine Corps, having seen service in Central America and the Middle East.

Although Cole is here, Jon Stone is also back, partially because he has a very different skill set from Pike and Cole, but also because he knew the murdered man.

As Cole and Pike slipped out, Stone said, “Want the M4? It’s ideal for urban assault.”

Cole frowned at Stone. “You have an M4?”

“Shit, yeah, man. Suppressed. Frangible bullets so you don’t kill a buncha people in the next house. Straight from the Delta Armory.”

Cole looked at Pike. “Is he kidding?”

“Let’s go.”

Right, the murders. Almost forgot about them again.

Frank Meyer, who had once worked with Joe Pike, and his family were murdered by a home invasion crew. Unfortunately the crew had previously only hit the homes of people involved in organized crime, so suspicion falls upon Frank.

Pike and Jon Stone both know that Frank would never ever have been involved in anything dirty, so they work to clean Frank’s name as well as to find the killers.

I am drinking scotch in honor of our friend Frank. I would rather rip off a twenty-one-gun salute out in the backyard, but my neighbors prefer the drinking. Where was I?”

As I said, I remembered nothing of this story, but that’s because of what was happening when I read it, it’s not at all a failing on the part of the story, because the story is good.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

The Sentry (2011)

This is definitely a book I haven’t read before!

This is also a book focusing on Joe Pike.

Let me be clear, I don’t dislike Joe. I just prefer Elvis. But I see to be in a minority, from this blurb by Robert Crais about Joe Pike.

Like Elvis Cole, Joe had always gotten a lot of mail from women, but the tone of his mail now changed. They sent gifts. They sent pictures. They wrote, “I love Joe Pike,” but not in a way suggesting they were fond of him or maybe kinda crushing on him. Pike’s fans were feral. They said, “I WANT Joe Pike.”

Meaning: Pike is my love slave!

I get it. It is not lost on me that the young male heartthrobs in the current crop of insanely successful vampire films are all brooding bad-boy loners, held in check from their evil ways only by the love of a good woman, who is herself moved by their tortured hearts. Has any vampire been as lethal as Joe Pike, or as tortured?

Pike is the ultimate bad boy. He is dangerous, enigmatic, and male with a capital M, but it is his damaged soul that makes him sexy with a capital S. His lack of emotion suggests an inner landscape so damaged it is as barren as the desert surrounding Tikrit. It also suggests an emptiness waiting to be filled, and therein lies Pike’s tragic nature and, I suspect, the sexy-hot core of his huge appeal. My female readers intuit that he is redeemable, and an awful lot of them want to help with his redemption!

I was thinking about this last night–about characters who are are as damaged as Pike is. I came up with Carrie Vaughn‘s Cormac (a minor character who eventually got his own book), in that they both are poorly socialized men who have honed themselves into killers–but killers who have a strong personal sense of right and wrong.

The other examples I thought of aren’t quite right: Hawk, from Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series is a very affable man, and functions well in society. Simon Green’s John Bloody Taylor is messed up, but has a sense of humor. Mike Carey’s Felix Castor is extremely messed up, but he also makes tons of mistakes and repents his errors.

There’s not anything wrong with Joe Pike, it’s just that I don’t get why so many people love characters like him. They’re silent and brooding and have no sense of humor. Yetch.

Regardless, in this book Pike comes across two gang members beating up a small business owner, and steps in. The man wants to forget everything, but when his niece comes in, everything changes.

She started her car and gave him a parting smile. “If you’re going to be dangerous, you might as well be dangerous for me.”

Pike said nothing.

“Do. You. Get. It?”

“You don’t understand.”

“What? What don’t I understand?”

“War is what I do.”

Pike hung up.

John Chen has morphed into something rather different from when he started.

John Chen was corrupt. A paranoid with low self-esteem, Chen lived for the headline, and this was normally Cole’s ace. Cole often gave Chen information that allowed him to make breakthroughs on cases he would not have made otherwise.

Chen, whose obsessions in life revolved around women and money, currently drove a Porsche Boxster. The women had so far eluded him.

I prefer this description to having to read Chen’s obsessions with sex.

But I did like this bit. It gave him a bit more humanity than that first description.

All you have to do is look at me. I’m the guy defense attorneys make out to be the bumbling geek, so juries laugh. I hear cops making cracks when I’m at a scene. Every time I look in a mirror, I know why the girls laugh.”

“John, you don’t have to—”

Chen held up a finger, stopping him.

“When I first met you guys, I was freakin’ terrified of Joe. He was everything that scares me shitless. Here’s this guy, and no one would have the balls to make a crack or laugh. Here he is, a fucking street monster, but of all the people I deal with, he treats me with more respect than anyone else.”

Chen lifted the bag.

“So I will find a way to do this.”

Regarding military service, it is not mentioned when Cole or Pike served, but service in the desert is alluded to.

The young troops Pike knew, fresh back from the desert, called it spider-sense, taking the term from the Spider-Man movies. They told him if you humped the desert long enough you developed a sixth sense that tingled like angry ants when the crosshairs found your skin. Pike had humped jungles, deserts, and pretty much everywhere a man could hump for most of his life, and now he felt the tingle.

And I still appreciate Cole’s appreciation of food and his interesting in cooking.

The joy of cooking was oblivion. Slicing and seasoning made it easier not to think.

It’s those little things that make Elvis Cole so much more interesting to me than Pike.

However, there were two bits at the end that I particularly liked.

SPOILER (rot 13)

Cvxr fnj gur ohyyrgf uvg ure, ubj ure fuveg chpxrerq naq evccyrq. Ur fnj ure rlrf syhggre, naq ure zbhgu bcra nf vs fur qvqa’g xabj jung unq unccrarq. Fur ernpurq hc gb gbhpu fbzrguvat gung jnfa’g gurer, gura sryy. Cvxr qvq abg tb gb ure. Ur ghearq naq fnj Ryivf Pbyr, fgvyy ubyqvat uvf tha.

Cvxr fnj gur grnef fcvyy qbja Pbyr’f snpr. Cvxr jngpurq uvf sevraq pel, naq arvgure bs gurz zbirq.

That, again, is why I like Cole so much.

But this however, made Joe for once seem human.

Pbyr jrag gb gur fyvqref nf Wbr Cvxr pnzr guebhtu gur sebag qbbe. Cvxr jnf senzrq va gur qbbe sbe n zbzrag, fheebhaqrq ol yvtug, gura ur fuhg gur qbbe naq pnzr bhg bagb gur qrpx.

Gurl fgbbq snpr-gb-snpr, arvgure bs gurz fcrnxvat, gura Cvxr chyyrq uvz pybfr, naq uhttrq uvz. Qvqa’g fnl n jbeq, whfg uhttrq uvz, naq jrag gb gur envy.

So it’s a good book, but I enjoyed the Elvis Cole bits more than the Pike bits, even though I did like seeing Pike make poor choices.
Rating: 7.5/10

Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Taken (2012)

This is a Elvis Cole and Joe Pike book I had not read before.

I didn’t especially enjoy this book. Possibly because it’s about modern slave traders and brutal murders. That’s… hard to take. I already know these horrible things happen. I really don’t need the details in my brain.

The other reason was that this story was split between Joe Pike and Elvis Cole with a good deal of Jon Stone thrown in. I would not want to spend any time with Jon Stone.

I mean, he’s interesting, but not in a fascinating way.

Jon Stone had worked the two drunk ex-ROK gangsters for no other reason than gathering intelligence was in his nature.

Jon gave her the smile that made him look like a cruising tiger shark. “I’d like my attorney if we’re going to talk. I asked the detectives to call him, but they said something rude.”

Her face tightened with irritation for the first time. “You gave them a Washington phone number and told them to call the Deputy Director of the National Security Agency.”

“Yes, ma’am. He’ll take your call if you use my name. Boy has me on speed-dial.”

Jon Stone walked out of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Station beneath an overhead full moon at the beginning of its lazy slide to the west. Everything in Jon’s possession at the time of his arrest had been returned with the exception of Khalil Haddad, who would remain a guest of the United States government. No loss.

There is of course Cole, who is my favorite, but less of him than normal.

“Hi, Mr. Cole, I’m Nita. You look like your picture.”

“The one where I look stupid or the one where I look confused?”

“The one where you look like a smart, determined detective who gets the job done.”

And of course Cole’s cat.

This black cat who lives with me was waiting by his dish, but he wasn’t waiting for me to feed him. He had brought his own. A fourteen-inch piece of king snake was on the floor by the bowl. It was still twitching. Maybe he wanted to share.

I did like the bits where Pike considers Cole, mostly because they are so very different, that it fascinates me.

(Pike) stared at Cole’s car. Filthy. Pike washed his Jeep every day, and waxed it every two months. Cole’s home was neat and orderly, and Cole was fastidiously clean when he cooked, but his car was a mess. Pike did not understand it, though he often wondered if it revealed some truth Pike was unable to understand.

He thought about Elvis Cole, and their friendship, and hoped Cole was inside and alive. He told himself Cole was alive. Pike took the Jiminy Cricket from his pocket. He looked at it. A toy cricket. Pike put it back in his pocket. If Cole was dead, there would be hell to pay.

I especially liked the Jiminy Cricket, since there wasn’t much else of Cole’s love of Disney here.

I’m kinda glad I didn’t buy this book but instead borrowed it, because I don’t think I care to re-read it.
Rating: 6/10

Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

 

Robert Crais' website