A Dangerous Man by Robert Crais: A Routine Errand leads to a Rescue Mission for Joe Pike

A Dangerous ManA Dangerous Man

by Robert Crais

Series: Joe Pike, #7/Elvis Cole, #18
Hardcover, 339 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019
Read: August 8, 2019

Pike clipped his .357 to his waist, and went to his Jeep. Sometimes Pike enjoyed silence. Sometimes the silence scared him.

There’s nothing like a riveting scene to start off a Thriller, right? So naturally, Robert Crais starts this Joe Pike novel with Pike waiting in line to make a deposit at his bank. Talk about a nail-biter.

Yeah, that was snarkier than it needed to be. Honestly, I thought the scene was amusing — you don’t think of Pike doing routine things like that, and having the tellers gossip about him was cute. Right after that, this becomes a Pike kind of story—as he’s getting into his Jeep, he sees the teller who’d just been helping him being violently forced into a vehicle that drives away. Pike calls the police and intervenes before the kidnappers can do anything to Izzy.

The kidnappers are arrested, and Joe Pike has become a hero in a young woman’s eyes. Just another day for Pike, really, except his opponents are breathing okay. Neither the police, Izzy or Pike can figure out why she was taken — it’s not for money, she has none; there was no indication of sexual assault; and no one to ransom her to. Yet these two men committed this brazen act in mid-day with many witnesses around (including one witness that decides not to just watch).

A few days later, the kidnappers have been shot and Izzy is missing. Pike is spurred to action — and calls in Elvis to handle the investigation side of things while Pike secures her home and tries to insure her best friend is safe, before trying a different tack than Elvis to discover who took Izzy. It’s not long before Elvis finds himself entangled in a web of family secrets, lies, and murder — in addition to kidnapping.

It’s then a race to find out why Izzy was taken, as well as by whom and where. Despite not knowing her well, Pike’s devoted to saving Izzy and making sure those who took her won’t be in any position to threaten or hurt anyone again.

Joe Pike is in full-on protector/sentry/guardian angel mode here. He feels responsible for Izzy after rescuing her once, and once she goes missing, it’s a given that he’ll devote all his time and energy to rescuing her again. Elvis isn’t quite as invested, but he’s close and catches just enough brakes to get a full picture of what might drive people to kidnap Izzy and who they just might be. He’s also back to being full of quips and isn’t afraid to tweak the LAPD’s nose a little bit.

This is possibly the best John Chen story arc yet, it’s tertiary to the main story, but pivotal when it comes into contact with the primary story. But there’s more drama, more real emotion and tension of John than we’re used to. It was pretty cool to see how this one wrapped up, and how other characters worked to get it there. Do I expect that this will have any change on John’s character in the future? Of course not. But it was a good use of the character.

Very frequently, the clients that Joe and Elvis take on are utterly hopeless and are aware they’re totally dependent on the Joe and/or Elvis in their situation. Usually, part of Joe’s interaction with them is to show them they can rely on themselves, to find their strengths, maybe develop some. But Izzy and her best friend, Carly, don’t need that. Yes, they’re clueless about how to act in this dangerous situation — kidnapping, guns, and violence, in general, aren’t parts of their world, and they need experts to help with this (as 90+% of us would). But otherwise, they’re confident, they know their place in the world and are enjoying life. This does not stop the two of them doing things that are monumentally stupid (understandable, but stupid). But it’s a different arc than we’re used to, and it was pleasant to see these kinds of characters.

Without ruining anything, I’ll just note that Crais is better at bringing back — even if it’s just by dropping their name — old clients than most PI series. I’ve always liked that, and this book is no exception.

Crais is at the top of his game — this book takes place over a very short period of time and the urgency of the story is reflected in the prose. If you don’t get sucked in and gripped by the neck by this story, there’s something wrong with you. I tried to take my time and savor it, knowing it’ll be a while before we get another. But nope, Couldn’t do it, I had it finished about 13 hours after I started it — and it’s only family/work responsibilities that kept me from making that even briefer. There are some laughs; some quiet, reflective moments; but mostly, it’s pedal-to-the-metal action. Which is exactly what you want in a Joe Pike novel. The writing is crisp and compelling from the opening scene to the superb closing line.

Is this accessible for a new reader? Yup. Don’t let the fact that this is the 18th novel with these characters dissuade you, this is a perfect way to meet them and to see why Crais has been a bestseller for quite some time now. A Dangerous Man is as close to perfect as a thriller can be, and is probably the best thing Crais has done since 2013’s Suspect. Don’t waste time, go get it.

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4 1/2 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

The Wanted by Robert Crais

The WantedThe Wanted

by Robert Crais
Series: Elvis Cole, #15

Hardcover, 322 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017

Read: December 27 – 28, 2017


A single mom has worries about the way that her teen-aged son is behaving — and when you add in flashy clothes, a Rolex, and more money in his pocket than most book bloggers have in their checking account. So, she hires Elvis to figure out what the bad news is.

It takes The World’s Fastest Detective just a couple of hours to figure out what Tyson has been up to, and it’s not good: Tyson and a couple of friends have been breaking into empty homes and making off with all sorts of high-end merchandise. Think The Bling Ring, but without anything for Emma Watson to do. Multiple security companies, insurance investigators as well as the police have been hunting for them, and Elvis has stumbled onto the trail.

Of all those on the hunt for this crew, one team is closer to finding them than Elvis is — and these two seem to be leaving a lot of bodies in their wake. They’re identified right from the get-go, so I don’t mind talking about them too much. They’ve clearly been partners for a long time — the give and take between the pair is enough to almost make you forget they’re horrible people. At one point, the two get into a discussion about the appropriateness of the word “retard” in conversation, another conversation is about the depiction of women in moves/fiction, and they get into a big argument about annoying ringtones that one of them is using. If they weren’t going around killing people for mysterious, yet clearly nefarious, reasons, I could really like them (or, if Crais was going for a Tarantino/Leonard thing with them).

The pacing on this is relentless — well, it’s obvious to the reader right off that the clock is ticking, but once Elvis catches up to what we know, things are almost non-stop. It’s similar to Taken, but without the jumping around in time, Crais knows how to handle the tension and momentum just right so the suspense is genuine. It also reminded me of The Watchman, in that you have Elvis and Cole trying to protect a self-involved teen (or two) on the run from some very determined killers.

In so many ways this is classic Elvis Cole: Joe Pike doesn’t do much — it’s almost like the early books, he shows up does his Batman kind of thing, and vanishes. It was a nice way to deal with him — we don’t want to get too chummy with Pike, he looses a bit of the mystique that way. When he does act — we get our money’s worth. John Chen is very John Chen-y, which is always fun (as long as we don’t get too much of him). We get some quick visits with some other old friends, too. Elvis cooks like hosts on Food Network aspire to. All the mainstays are there.

Slipping in every now and then between the adrenaline from the chase and the fan service is a solid emotional grounding that was as effective as it was unexpected.

Time with a couple of old favorites, an almost perfectly constructed thriller, and some solid emotional moments — who could ask for more? From the hitting-the-ground-running beginning through to the very touching ending, this is a heckuva read that should please fans new and old.

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4 1/2 Stars

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.