The Last Detective begins a few months after the L. A. Requiem and Joe Pike is trying to get himself back in fighting shape after his devastating injuries in exactly the place you’d expect — the Alaskan wilderness (isn’t that where’d you go?). Joe’s looking more mortal than he had since the shooting in The Monkey’s Raincoat, but like the tattoos indicate, he’s moving forward. While there he encounters an Alaskan brown bear? The way Crais describes it (which seems pretty realistic), if you stop and think about it — that’s horror, that’s terror. Hannibal Lecter, Martin Vanger, Alex Kork — that’s fiction, that’s fantasy. Brown bear? That’s reality. A reality I hope never to know better than I do now. But, this isn’t Joe Pike starring in Man vs. Wild, so we’re off to L. A.
Elvis and Ben Chenier are hanging out for a few days while Ben’s mom is out of town, Elvis and Lucy are still trying to recover from the hit their relationship took in Requiem. Ben goes off to play outside while Elvis is on the phone with Lucy, and then he doesn’t come back. Elvis gets scared, finds his video game laying in the brush below Elvis’ house. It’s not too long afterwards that they get a call — the boy didn’t get lost, he didn’t run away — he was abducted.
The investigation gets into full swing fairly quickly — Elvis calls in some favors from the police to help. Here we meet investigator Carol Starkey (from Crais’ Demolition Angel) who vacillates between appreciating Elvis’ investigatory skills and being annoyed with him. Lucy’s ex comes in, pushing his investigators into the investigation, trying to push Elvis out and generally making life difficult for him. Richard clearly has an Elvis-shaped chip on his shoulder and uses this circumstance to throw dirt on his ex-wife’s new love.
It seems that Ben’s kidnapping is related in some way to what Elvis did in Vietnam, and both the reader and those involved in the investigation learn a lot about something that Elvis thought he was done talking about. What some people called his secrets, he saw differently:
I wasn’t keeping secret. Some things are better left behind, that’s all, you move past and go on. That’s what I’ve tried to do, and not just about the war.
Elvis’ life before and during the war weren’t wonderful, and he’s tried to go on. But that’s no longer an option — he has to revisit a lot of that, which Lucy doesn’t react well to.
On the one hand, I’m still liking Lucy less and less for more of the same that I complained about last time. But that’s not to say I disagree with her — when she tells Joe Pike that the way he and Elvis live isn’t normal.
I don’t like the way violence follows you; you and him. I’ve known police officers all my life, and none of them live like this. I know federal and state prosecutors who’ve spent years building cases against murderers and mob bosses, and none of them have their children stolen . . . I am normal! I want to be normal! Are you so perverted that you think this is normal? It isn’t! It is insane!
. She’s right. But . . . well, see what I said last time. I sympathize, but I still don’t like her any more.
Now, this isn’t just a manhunt for the kidnappers — there’s plenty for Elvis to investigate, a few twist and turns and — of course, secrets unearthed and a decent helping of violence. The emotional toll these events take is worse than anything else, all things considered.
Although the focus is on Elvis and the search for Ben. We do learn a little more about Pike (no problems between he and the LAPD this time). We get a different explanation for Joe’s need for order and cleanliness than I’d surmised from Requiem, but it’s probably a combination. I’m only talking about it so much because for so long it’s what little we knew about him — he liked his Jeep spotless and everything immaculate. Joe displays his typical loyalty to Elvis here — it’s typical for him, it’s out-of-place in today’s world on the whole. He even takes on a debt that sets up a future book, a detail I hadn’t really paid attention to until now, but it was a huge move on his part.
John Chen returns — and is again helped to gain a bit of the spotlight he so craves, but he’s got skills of his own (and is probably learning a good deal from Joe and Elvis). He’s still a not good guy, really, but you can’t help but like him. I had a brief moment of fan-boy excitement when everyone’s favorite Vietnam Tunnel Rat turned LAPD detective puts in a cameo. It really helped lighten the oppressive mood. It was nice to see him in these pages, it was nicer still that it happened when it did.
This is the most intense, fastest-paced Elvis Cole novel yet. It’s all forward momentum (see Pike’s tattoos yet again — Crais isn’t the only one who can overuse them as a symbol). Part of this — maybe a large part of this — has to do with the fact that it’s a kidnapping case, every minute counts. It certainly doesn’t hurt that every chapter leads off with “X Hours, Y Minutes” since the kidnapping.
This is really great stuff here. Even though I remembered why the various villains were up to their villainy, seeing it revealed to Elvis still got me riled up as it was intended to, and though I knew how both the kidnapping and related stories wrapped up, I was still glued to the pages, turning as fast as I could. Which is the sign of a master of suspense writing — that even when there’s no suspense, the reader is still reacting as if there was.