Robert Crais' new Elvis Cole novel a non-stop action-fest
No one is better than Robert Crais at writing action sequences. Absoutely no-one. Michael Connelly and Lee Child are very, very good but Crais' action scenes are so crisp, so infused with energy, that it's almost like "reading" a movie. A really good movie. This is one of his more interesting efforts, as he rotates point of view between his series hero, Elvis Cole, and his series antihero, Joe Pike.
I heard Robert Crais say in an interview once that he begins a story with something that breaks his heart and works from there. The whole premise of this book is a heart-breaker, and it doesn't let up.
Crais' wise cracking yet soulful detective, Elvis Cole, has recently been profiled as the "World's Greatest Detective" in an LA Magazine, and on the strength of this, a desperate mother calls him, saying she thinks her daughter is the victim of a kidnapping hoax. She wants Elvis to find her.
As readers, we've seen that the woman's daughter, Krista, has in fact been kidnapped by a group of bajadores, or human bandits, who kidnap people recently ferried across the U.S.- Mexico border by their human traffickers, called coyotes.
Bad enough to be ferried across the border by coyotes, but much, much worse to be caught by the bajadores, who try to extort more money, sometimes only a few hundred dollars, from the families of the victims. The captor's contempt for their human charges is so deep they refer to them as merely "pollos" or chickens. If no one pays up, the pollos die.
As the narrative works its way back and forth in time a bit, sometimes telling the story of Krista and her boyfriend's captivity, sometimes telling the story of Joe Pike's hunt for them, and sometimes telling the story from Elvis' point of view, as he figures a way to track Krista down and then is taken himself by the bajadores.
The prisoners are a wide variety of languages and cultures — most prominently Korean and Mexican — making their guards the most venal representatives of those two cultures. The head guy is referred to as "The Syrian."
The details of the captivity — torture, rape and general brutality, not to mention horrible living conditions, such as 30 people crammed into a tiny ranch house bedroom — are horrendous, and I can only imagine, probably accurate.
Two things make this story, if possible, more heartbreaking. One is the almost matter-of=fact way Crais relates it. The other is the affection felt by the reader, 15 books into this now-classic series, for Elvis and Joe Pike. While Lee Child may have played fast and loose with Jack Reacher's fate in 61 hours, Crais doesn't seem to want Elvis to go down that path.
And thank heavens for it. Elvis is one of the great detectives of the contemporary mystery scene, a classic character who combines wit, smarts, bravery and sometimes stubbornness to figure stuff out and solve problems.
Crais almost single handedly revived the private eye genre with this series, while at the same time paying tribute to the roots laid down by Raymond Chandler. His most immediate predecessor is probably Robert B. Parker, and the template set up by Parker of the tough, wise cracking detective with the invincible sidekick is adhered to here, just made more up to date.
This novel could be enjoyed with or without having read any of the others, however. It's a pure, adrenaline-filled narrative that never lets up and never wavers in its purpose. Just like Elvis and Joe.