When Jodi Taylor hires Elvis Cole to find her birth parents, it seems like a pretty standard case. Jodi, star of the acclaimed TV show Songbird, wants to find out about possible health concerns she may genetically be susceptible to. She knows she was born in Ville Platte, Louisiana thirty-six years ago, but that's the extent of the knowledge she has about her origins. The state has sealed the documents concerning her real parents, and she has been advised by her lawyer (Lucille Chenier of Sonnier, Melacon, and Burke, Attorneys at Law) to hire a private investigator. Her agent Sid Markowitz recommends Elvis Cole.
Of course the case is anything but standard. Cole finds out Jodi is being blackmailed, uncovers a thirty-six year old murder, and takes on local thugs running an illegal immigrant ring. The plot of the story is in some ways secondary to the characters themselves. Cole's pursuit of Lucy is bittersweet (having previously read L.A. Requiem in which they break up) and at times funny. Lucy slowly accepts Cole's advances, wary of new relationships because she is a single working parent. Jodi Taylor slowly becomes more interested in her birth parents, especially her mother, as the novel progresses. There's this burning curiosity she feels to learn about her origins that develops over the course of the book.
Crais does an excellent job of using Louisiana as a backdrop for the story. He uses the South as a contrast to fast-paced Los Angeles. Things are a little more relaxed in Louisiana, a little more hospitable; the people a little more personable. And they have killer snapping turtles. Crais' time living there has definitely given the story a realistic flavor, especially when it comes to cuisine and regional attitudes.
Unlike more recent novels, where Crais has managed to combine realistic characters and setting with suspenseful plot lines, the story line in Voodoo River suffers. Not to say the novel isn't suspenseful, because it genuinely is in sections. It just seems to fall short of some of his more recent work, especially the last quarter of the book which seems to have been a plot device to include Joe Pike in the story.
Such criticisms are minor, however. The Elvis Cole series has provided mystery lovers with a number of engaging stories that combine fast-paced action and suspense, complicated characters, and subtle commentary on problematic social issues (such as racism and the abuse of illegal immigrants in this story). Voodoo River stands as one of the better novels of the series.
All text (C) 2000 LCB
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