Robert Crais The Last Detective Reviewed by Terry D'Auray

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The Last Detective

Robert Crais

Orion Publishing Company

UK Hardcover First

ISBN: 0-75258-198-5

302 Pages; £12.99

Publication Date: February, 2003

Date Reviewed: October 14, 2004

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2004




Robert Crais unleashed Elvis Cole and Joe Pike on the PI series world back in 1987 with 'The Monkey's Raincoat'. Back then, Cole was pure-bred smartass, a wise cracking PI with only-in-Hollywood eccentricities. He was LA's answer to Robert Parker's Spenser - a little younger, a little cockier, but equally romantic, equally committed to doing the right thing and equally disdainful of hypocrites and bad guys. And, like Spenser, Elvis had a bad-ass sidekick in Joe Pike, a taciturn killer trained in the Marine's elite forces who has the bigger gun, the faster deadly fists, and far fewer scruples. Elvis uttered a memorable quip at least every tenth sentence; Pike uttered next to nothing and together they tore up the pages with fast-paced, action packed heroics. They were a rockin' pair.

And eight books later, they still are. But unlike Spenser and Hawk, whose personas and rapport remain essentially unchanged from book to book (for which many readers, me included, give thanks), Cole and Pike have evolved. Their quips and invincibility have toned down; their characters have matured and deepened; there's new, meaty moral and emotional subtext to their stories.

After five successful Cole/Pike books, Crais surprised his readers by bravely turning the series on its ear. In the 1999 novel 'L.A. Requiem', he moved the sidekick to center stage in a harrowing and haunting novel featuring Joe Pike in the lead and Elvis as backup. It was tough and violent fiction leavened by a sensitive love story and a traumatic emotional core. Joe Pike's childhood was revealed, his psyche opened and examined, and he turned out to be a pretty complicated, but deeply fascinating guy. Left unsure at the end of 'L.A. Requiem' whether Pike would survive to the next book, readers were rocked and enthralled. We had to wait four long years to discover Pike's fate, during which Crais authored two very successful stand-alones, 'Demolition Angle' and 'Hostage'.

'The Last Detective', while assuring us that Pike did indeed survive, does for Elvis Cole what 'L.A. Requiem' did for Pike. It pulls us deep inside Cole's past, describing his unstable family history, his heroic but traumatic experiences in Viet Nam, and it exposes his deepest fears and darkest doubts. Cole's unveiling begins when Ben Chenier, the ten-year-old son of his lady love Lucy Chenier, is kidnapped while under Elvis' care. Ben's abduction appears to be retribution for something Elvis did in Viet Nam many years before. The relationship between Lucy and Elvis, so promising a few books back, was already fraying. Ben's loss brings the arrival of Lucy's ex and Ben's father, a wealthy New Orleans' businessman and his entourage, to create a complicated and unsettled triangle of accusation, recrimination, and rebuke. Cole sets out to find Ben and bring him to safety, with the help of LAPD's Carol Starkey, the tough and scarred female lead in 'Demolition Angel', and of course, with Pike. Cole ends up also finding himself.

Crais' series features multiple, complex story lines and 'The Last Detective' is no exception. Here he takes a basic kidnapping story and layers it with dream sequences, flashbacks - to Cole's childhood and Viet Nam experience - and tells the story from multiple points of view, in first-person and third. Even with all the narrative razzle-dazzle, the underlying story doesn't get lost; it gets more expansive, more elegant, and far more involving.

Crais is, flat out, the best action writer in the business. His action scenes are perfectly set up and convincingly violent, with gore and brutality stopping just a step short of intolerable. They unfold in a narrative slow-motion that is pumped with tension and amped with uncertainty. Each sight, sound and smell is detailed; each action, reaction, and thought is chronicled. And these action scenes are long, page after page of exquisitely choreographed violence, all breathtaking and riveting. Readers never know what to expect, can never count on a happy ending. Crais pushes us out of the plane with no assurance that the parachute will open; the simple act of reading quickly moves from a passive to an active event. (This is why I've waited 18-months between the release of this book and now to actually read it. I needed to see a firm publication date for the next Cole/Pike book - which for Crais' books, often delayed, is not always that straightforward. A new book guarantees that Cole and Pike survive to fight again, my assurance that the parachute will open). Don't read the conclusion of 'The Last Detective' on a bus - you'll look silly sitting so tensely on the edge of your seat, sillier still when your socks fall off, and you'll miss your stop for sure.

Robert Crais' series simply gets better with each new book. His characters have matured; they're no longer cocky and invincible; they're far richer now that their motivations have been exposed. But they can still tear up pages like no other twosome in the genre. Elvis Cole and Joe Pike - rock on.