This is the first novel that I've read of Robert Crais, and I have to admit I'm impressed. His writing is definitely in the Raymond Chandler/Ross Mac Donald first person style of narrative, but he augments it with third person flashback and narrative. The transitions between these styles are seamless. His detective, Elvis Cole, is tough, principled, and sensitive. This novel is about choices, and how each choice we make affects and effects those around us.
The novel begins with Cole helping his girlfriend, Lucy Chenier, and her son move into their new Los Angeles home. She has moved to L.A. in part because of a job opportunity (as a news law expert) and in part to be closer to Elvis. He's in the process of moving her couch to a different spot (again), when his partner Joe Pike call him. Pike wants Cole to help him look for Karen Garcia on behalf of her father. The elder Garcia is worried that he hasn't heard from his daughter in a twenty-four hour period. Garcia's fears are realized when a pair of hikers find her body.
Part One of the story concentrates on the search Karen Garcia's killer. She and the enigmatic Joe Pike were romantically involved, and the story flashes between the search for her murderer and the events surrounding their love affair and its eventual breakup. Joe Pike was involved with Karen, but he was in love his partner's wife. His partner was involved with a pair of robbers, and there was to be an investigation into his activities by internal affairs.
Part One introduces Cole to Detective Samantha Dolan. Frank Garcia carries enough weight with the city government that he arranges for Cole to observe the police investigation. Dolan is assigned the task of keeping Cole informed of the progress of the investigation. Throughout the course of the novel she pursues him. He rebuffs her, yet is attracted to her. Meanwhile, Cole's relationship with Lucy becomes strained, largely in part to the events in Part Two. Cole's feelings for Dolan place further strains on their relationship.
Whereas Part One focuses on the events of Karen and Joe Pike's relationship and the search for her killer, Part Two focuses on clearing Joe's name when he is charged with killing one of the hikers that found her body. Joe is thought to have killed his partner in the line of duty, and there is nothing more hated than a suspected cop killer. When a surveillance camera places him at the scene of the crime, he is arrested. He escapes and ends up at Elvis Cole's house.
Lucy can't believe that Cole is harboring a wanted fugitive, and gives Cole an ultimatum to choose between her or Pike. Elvis can't deny helping a friend in need, even if it costs him his license and his livelihood, and it causes an irreparable rift in their relationship. This choice destroys their chance of ever having a life together, just as Pike's feelings for his partner's wife destroys his chances with Karen Garcia. Each choice the characters make during the course of the story have consequences that have repercussions that go far beyond the scope of the novel. Los Angeles as the backdrop of this story, is a setting where people can make choices. There's a freedom in L.A. that Cole reflects on at the end of the book. People, like Lucy, come to the city for new opportunities, new choices.
This is by far one of the best novels I've read in the Chandler/Mac Donald tradition of private eye novels in a long time. Here's hoping that Robert Crais continues writing for a long, long time.
All text (C) 2000 LCB
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