The Promise by Robert Crais

The PromiseThe Promise

by Robert Crais
Series: Elvis Cole, #14 / Joe Pike, #5
Hardcover, 402 pg.

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015

Read: November 10 – 11, 2015


Elvis has been hired to find Amy Breslyn, from her pictures he says, “She looked like a sad version of someone’s marshmallow aunt: a kindly woman, slightly out-of-date, who wore sensible shoes and minded her own business.” But his client paints a picture of a woman who has been making some very unwise life choices lately, and she’s worried. Once Elvis scratches beneath the surface of Amy’s life, her recent lifestyle is far worse than “unwise.” Can the World’s Greatest Detective help her?

You strip away all the bells, whistles, multi-perspectives, co-mingling of series, and whatnot and you’ve got yourself a classic, prototypical Elvis Cole story. There’s a missing person that he’s hired to find, he goes through a bunch of stuff to find that person — ticking off a police department and a criminal enterprise in the process. At some point, he finds the person, but also discovers this person is in a world of hurt from the government/the criminals she’s crossed paths with, which he will try to extricate them from. Excitement, deception and bullets ensue. Pike does his thing. Elvis does his. Happy ending — or as close as you can get in this world we live in.

It’s with the bells and whistles that this one stands apart from your usual Elvis Cole book — which is both a good and a bad thing for the book.

Good, because we got to see so many characters that we enjoy and/or love interacting and teaming up.

But . . .

For the first few chapters it didn’t feel right — as an Elvis Cole book, it worked as a suspense novel — there was just too much bouncing around between the various point-of-view characters. By chapter 6 or 7, things settled down and back to what it should be. Still, The Promise probably stretches the limit of acceptable point-of-view characters: Mr. Rollins (the criminal we meet in the opening pages), Elvis, Joe, Jon Stone, Scott, and even Maggie — we’re an imp, a bastard and a khaleesi short of George R. R. Martin epic.*

It’s in trying to serve all these characters that the novel struggles — for example, I could’ve used more Pike. Sure, he’s effective when he’s around — but he’s barely around. After bringing in Jon Stone, Pike’s more of a backup than anything else — okay, fine, this was Stone’s kind of work. But still, if it’s listed as a Joe Pike novel we should see Joe do some Pike-level stuff. I don’t even think that Elvis said anything about him twitching the corner of his mouth in response to a joke! That might even disqualify it as an Elvis Cole.

Now, the Jon Stone material — especially his POV chapters — was great, and if it hadn’t been at the expense of Pike, I would write a healthy paragraph praising it.

The Maggie and Scott story might have been the most compelling part of the book. Scratch that, for me (at least, your mileage may vary) the Maggie and Scott story was the most compelling part of the book. It was fairly predictable, but executed so well that you just don’t care. This is a problem when they’re not the central figures in the book. I think the novel suffered from Spider-Man 3 Syndrome** — just too many characters running around to do a good job with.

I got enough of the Maggie and Scott material, same for the Jon Stone (except for the bit that you’re designed to want more of). But I needed more Joe being Joe, I wanted more Joe/Elvis interaction, more Elvis/Scott, more Elvis investigating, more — well, more Elvis, I guess is what I’m saying. Every time it seemed that the story was picking up steam and we were on track, we got someone else’s POV and had to start building momentum again.

Don’t get me wrong, I talked so much about the problems I had to fully explain them — I really enjoyed it, I just didn’t love it. After waiting so long, you’d hoped that this would’ve been dazzlingly great, instead The Promise will have to settle for being very enjoyable. Like I said at the outset, it’s a classic Elvis Cole story — and there are few things I’d rather read. I’m looking forward to re-reading this in a year or so, and I may put up a more favorable post when I do.


* Okay, now that I’m thinking about it, who wouldn’t love to see Joe Pike smack Joffrey around a little bit?
8* I’d call it Batman Forever or Batman and Robin Syndrome, but those two had much worse problems than a plethora of characters

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4 Stars

Reread Project: Suspect by Robert Crais

SuspectSuspect

by Robert Crais

Hardcover, 309 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013

Read: November 3, 2015

This isn’t steel and nylon. It’s nerve. You clip one end to you, you clip the other to this animal, it ain’t for dragging him down the street. You feel him through this nerve, and he feels you, and what flows through here flows both ways — anxiety, fear, discipline, approval — right through this nerve without you and your dog ever even having to look at each other, without you ever having to say a word. He can feel it, and you can feel it. too.

Thus spake Dominick Leland, LAPD K-9 corps’ sergeant and alpha. It’s that kind of devotion to the animals that characterizes this book. These people take their dogs seriously (well, it takes Scott a little bit, but that’s the point), almost too seriously.*

Someone on the Facebook Robert Crais FanClub mentioned re-reading this to prepare for the release next week of Crais’ The Promise which will feature (who knows how much) the two stars of this novel. Seemed like such a good idea, I pounced on it, too. So glad I did, I remember really liking this book, but I didn’t remember how much I really, really, really liked this book.

This is the story of two partners grieving the loss of their most recent partners, and recovering from wounds both physical and psychological while trying to move past the trauma by gearing up for a new assignment for the future. One of the pair is a once-SWAT-bound LAPD officer, and the other is a former explosive sniffing German Shepherd with the Marines in Afghanistan. Which adds a bit of novelty to the situation.

That Prologue is one of the most effective opening chapters I can think of — it’s like the first ten minutes or so of Pixar’s Up — warmth, purpose, courage, heartbreak — there’s almost nothing more you could ask of it.

I love the way Crais describes Maggie’s sniffing/scenting for work. For that matter, Maggie’s perspective in general is great — not goofy or cartoonish, played for laughs or anything like that. Sure, some of it is projection, some of it is just guess-work, some of it is poetic license — but it’s all good, authentic, writing.

I guess the same could be said for what Officer Scott James goes through — I don’t know what PTSD is like, really. I just know about it from various literary/dramatic sources. But this sure seems to work — the guilt, the fear, the stress, the nightmares, the obsession, it rings as true. Granted, Maggie’s got a greater emotional pull (who doesn’t love a good dog?), and is a little less familiar than Scott — but at least we can relate to his suffering and him.

As with almost everything Crais writes, this takes place in the world inhabited by Elvis Cole, Joe Pike and the rest. We see that by a brief interaction between one of the detectives and John Chen (who as also mentioned by name earlier). Brief interactions with Chen are probably the best for all involved, and here he was John Chen at his John Chen-iest — I just love it. Although thanks to Gotham, I’m getting an Edward Nigma-vibe off of him, thankfully, I know better. (right?)

From the start, this gets you right in the emotions, and Crais keeps you there. You’re drawn to Maggie, and because of her, Scott. You get invested more easily than with other new characters because of Maggie With about 40 pages to go, even though I knew how it ended, I still was tense. That’s good writing. Period. End of discussion. And for the record, my eyes totally did not get misty at the end, I don’t know why you’d ask.

When I blogged about this back in 2013, I said “I don’t think this is the best Crais novel . . .but, given the way this worms into your heart, it’s probably my favorite.” It’s still probably not his best, but it’s better than I thought it was initially (I was more concerned with plot and character than craft, I think) — probably in the top 5, and it is my favorite so far.

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* Yeah, totally kidding. Not possible to be too serious about your dog.

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5 Stars

Robert Crais’ The Promise Delayed Again?

Since I talked about the last one, I figured I’d better talk about this one, too. According to an e-mail I received yesterday, and an update to the Robert Crais Facebook page, we’re looking at another delay for The Promise by Robert Crais: November 10. Which makes it almost exactly 1 year late.

I don’t know if it’s a publication thing, Crais putting some more finishing touches on it, or what — it’s just aggravating. Nevertheless, I’ll wait. I can be patient to let Crais and his publisher put out the book they want to, make sure it’s right, however hard that’s getting to be.

Still . . .

Robert Crais’ The Promise Delayed

According to an email I just received about my preorder* and a post to his Facebook page (but no update to his website yet), The Promise has been delayed. The Facebook post says a US publication date is forthcoming, but I’m supposed to receive mine on April 28 of next year.

On the one hand — you know what? I’d rather it be done right, rather than done fast. Robert Crais, much like George R. R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss or Jim Butcher (to name a few notable authors who’ve delayed things lately) is not my bitch. Crais knows when the book is done, and until then, I can wait.

On the other hand, this is rather short notice for this kind of thing from what I can tell. Makes me wonder about the editorial process for one of his books. Also? I’d scheduled things so I could go right from Taken one week to The Promise the next (yes, the reviews are behind by two books, but my reading is on track).

The positive take: Crais is going to give us the book he wants to. Personally, drat, it means more time without a new Cole/Pike (plus Maggie!) book. And it’s just further proof that the Scot knew what he was talking about when he described how schemes “Gang aft agley.”

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* One of the dumbest words in widespread use right now. Why not just say I ordered it? Just because it hasn’t released doesn’t make it a special kind of ordering…

Reread Project: The Last Detective by Robert Crais

The Last Detective (Elvis Cole, #9)The Last Detective

by Robert Crais
Series: Elvis Cole, #9

Hardcover, 320 pgs.
Doubleday, 2003
Read: October 1 – 2, 2014

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.

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5 Stars

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Drawing by Kirsty Stewart, chameleonkirsty on deviantART, used with permission.

Reread Project: L.A. Requiem by Robert Crais

L.A. Requiem (Elvis Cole, #8)L.A. Requiem by Robert Crais
Series: Elvis Cole, #8

Mass Market Paperback, 539 pages
Published October 3rd 2002 by Pocket
Read: September 24 – 25, 2014


I know that I’ve read this one at least twice previously, but you wouldn’t have been able to prove it last week when I started my re-read of it. I’d spent the last few weeks while planning this series (and probably years before it), convinced that the events of The Last Detective happened in this book — and that the back story revealed here was revealed a couple of books earlier.

Not only that, I’d forgotten this was where we met John Chen! I’d even forgot that he was on the horizon! Sure, John Chen is a despicable, slimey guy. But there’s something about him I liked — even here, before any of his redeeming qualities are found (developed?), there’s something about John that’s likeable. He’s a creep, but he’s Pike’s creep.

Still, I’d clearly forgotten just about everything meaningful about this novel — at least as far as plot goes. I remember what I learned about Pike (but, as I said, thought I learned it elsewhere). Making this a lot of fun to reread. Which is, I guess, the whole point of rereading.

Anyway, to the book itself:

One of my all-time favorite movies is Midnight Run, if you haven’t watched it, shame on you. Really. There’s no excuse. Go rectify that situation. As you’ll recall, Jonathan Mardukus torments the bounty hunter bringing him back to LA with the question, “Why are you so unpopular with the Chicago police department?” Throughout this series, astute readers have likely been asking a similar question: “Why is Joe Pike so unpopular with the Los Angeles police department?” — at least I have (which is not to say you’re an astute reader if you haven’t been asking the question I have — clearly, you’re astute. And good looking. With a great sense of humor). Except for the times when the detectives have hard to travel out of town, we’ve seen animosity to outright hatred in the LAPD’s reaction to Joe (with the exception of Det. Angela Rossi). In these pages, we finally learn why (it’s an understandable, yet, mistaken reason — naturally). But we learn a lot more about him, here, too: the foundation for his obsession with keeping his jeep clean, why he’s driven in many of the ways that he is, and more — but this isn’t just a series of flashbacks — all we learn about Joe serves the main story as well as the character.

For a little change of pace here in book 8, Joe Pike brings in the client. In this case, it’s the father of a woman Joe dated back when he was a police officer, things ended badly, but not so badly that Frank Garcia has lost any respect for Joe. So when Karen goes missing one day, and the police won’t help him yet, Frank turns to Joe for help. Joe, naturally, brings Elvis along for this investigation.

The events that turned Pike into LAPD’s Most Hated are related to the outcome of this case — and not just because it makes every cop willing to believe the worst in Joe and not look too hard for an alternative explanation when Joe becomes a suspect. His partner jailed, the police hostile to any efforts to seek another suspect, the Karen Garcia case becomes Elvis’ most personal case yet (until the next book).

The various police officers and detectives involved in this book are just horrible — bordering on cartoonishly bad at the beginning. Not necessarily bad at their jobs, just bad human beings. Thankfully, Crais isn’t that kind of writer, and you learn there’s actually a reason for these men and women to act this way. Garcia’s able to use his political clout to force the detectives assigned to the case to let Elvis observe them, read their reports and whatnot. Which is resented (and not just because of Joe), particularly by the detective who’s forced to act as his liaison, Samantha Dolan. Dolan eventually softens to a degree, and her relationship with Cole acts as a precursor/template for another coming soon in Elvis’ life.

There’s a very spoiler-y paragraph here on my blog’s version if you want to read it.

I’m going to break my anti-spoiler policy here, and rant a bit. If you want to read it, use your mouse to select the following paragraph:
Lucy, Lucy, Lucy — I am so disappointed in you. Of course Elvis is going to choose to help Joe here. Of course, he’s going to put his life on the line for his partner (who’s saved his life more than once). Of course, Elvis is going to bend the law (at best), going to pull out all the stops to find the killer and save Joe. What did you think he was going to do? Stop being Elvis? How did you two meet? What lengths did Elvis go to in order to help out these complete strangers and the woman who lied to him and fired him? And then what did he do for those kids, after you forced him to help? Not to mention the case that got you your job in L.A.? I get it, you’re in a vulnerable place, you’ve changed your whole life thanks to Elvis and you feel like he owes you a bit. But before you moved to L. A. you knew who he was. You knew the kind of man he was and what kind of dangerous work he did. I started disliking Lucy here, and that only grows in the next book (even if I sympathize with her more there), so that when she shows up in The Forgotten Man I don’t even want to see her.

Nothing is simple about this case — not the mystery, not the motive for the killings, not the various motives for the investigators, not the lives of those touched by the crimes/criminals/investigators. It’s all complicated, messy and very human.

In the end, this is Crais’ masterpiece. Which isn’t to say that he hasn’t written some very satisfying and enjoyable books after this — many of which I like more. But nothing’s as good as this one. This brings us to a new stage in the Cole books — one that continues to this day. I might contrast the two stages a bit more in the weeks to come (maybe during/after The Forgotten Man or maybe to go along with The Promise), almost making them two different series. And yes, I miss the old Elvis — but that’s not to say there’s a problem with the new one, it’s just noting a difference. It’s haunting, it’s disturbing, and will affect any reader that has an emotional connection to the partners. Really well done. Oh, and as a bonus, the last 3 or 4 pages are just gorgeous — probably the most “writerly” writing that Crais has done yet.

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5 Stars

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Drawing by Kirsty Stewart, chameleonkirsty on deviantART, used with permission.

Reread Project: Indigo Slam by Robert Crais

Indigo Slam (Elvis Cole, #7)Indigo Slam

by Robert Crais
Series: Elvis Cole, #7

Mass Market Paperback, 320 pg.
Fawcett Books, 2003
Read: September 16 – 17, 2014


This, right here, is the low point for the Elvis Cole series. So why, you ask, do you give this 3 stars? Am I just that much of a mindless fanboy?

Well, probably. But that’s not it. One’s appreciation for this novel has everything to do with what you think of the clients. If you like them, see something in them that teaches us something about Elvis — you’ll probably like this book. If not, well, this’ll likely be a tougher read for you. Now, me? I liked the kids, especially Teri, the Fifteen year-old eldest sister, and substitute mom. Little sister Winona’s clearly adorable, Charles is a punk clearly in need of a strong male authority figure. Either individually, or considered as a group, I liked the kids — and therefore, when they ask the World’s Greatest Detective to find their absentee dad – I cared.

If it was almost anyone else looking for their dad, Clark, I can’t imagine caring. Once Elvis found him, I quickly reached the point where I didn’t care if Elvis was able to help him, as long as the kids would be alright.

Towards the end of the book, both Elvis and Joe make a major blunder that almost gets all of them killed. And sure, I don’t necessarily expect the two to have everything worked out before they take action — but there was evidence enough that they could’ve been on their toes security-wise and not almost got killed in the process. Not only do they miss the pretty obvious conclusion, they don’t even see that there’s a conclusion to be found. I’ve read Indigo four times now, and it distracts and detracts each time.

What makes Elvis’ (and, to be fair, Joe’s) blunder so egregious, was that it was hot on the heels of Elvis’ latest cunning plan. Some of these plans he comes up with to get his clients/clients’ families out of hot water stretch credulity, this one takes the cake. As Blackadder would say, it’s “a plan so cunning, you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel!” I can’t believe that anyone would go along with it — beyond the desperate family, that is — but not only do a group of criminals/revolutionaries, but Elvis gets multiple federal agencies to sign off. And it works. Mostly.

But somehow the book works. For two independent reasons: 1. As I stated previously, because of the clients — I bought into them. And 2., Because of the Lucy Story.

There was just something I liked about these kids and their plight — I believed it, I could see it. I enjoyed watching Elvis and Joe interact with them (really sick of Joe as baby sitter, let him do a little more, Elvis!)

There’s a little bit of a Lucy story, not as big as in the last two novels, but it’s there, and it’s an important development of what started in Sunset Express. But more than that, it’s a chance for Elvis to demonstrate the sensitive, caring male that he is. For Lucy to be an independent woman. And for the reader to see that this isn’t going to be a relationship that’s only wine and roses. Yes, Elvis is still the giddy, goofy guy in love making kissy sounds over the phone. But he’s also an adult who respects his partner.

Not a whole lot (other than Joe and Lucy) to tie this one to earlier novels — Elvis continues to use Lou Poitras and Eddie Ditko as his own personal (anachronistic) Google. And Elvis’ actions in Free Fall end up paying off for him, which was nice to see.

In the end, this was pretty blah. There were some nice character moments, a few chuckles, a nice firefight or two..but that’s really it. Not much going for it at all, which is a shame. Not the way that Phase 1 for Elvis Cole should end — but the parts that are a prequel for Phase 2 were strong enough (you’ll have to read L. A. Requiem to better understand that).

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3 Stars

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Drawing by Kirsty Stewart, chameleonkirsty on deviantART, used with permission.