In the last four Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels that Robert Crais has written since turning the series on its head - and elevating it to the top tier of crime fiction - with the magnificent LA Requiem, the author has put both his leads through the physical and emotional wringer, not only placing them not at the centre of the stories but also of the crimes themselves.
It has made for powerful novels of the highest order in the genre.
The personal nature of the stories is maintained in Chasing Darkness, the 12th novel of the series, but only to a degree as Crais spends far less time in this novel inside the heads of his leading protagonists. Yes, the story begins with Elvis investigating whether or not a man he has helped clear of murder some years back is actually a serial offender who killed again after acquittal but it develops as a far more straightforward crime thriller than the previous books.
This is not to say that Chasing Darkness is lacking in psychological complexity and moral ambiguity, because it is not. But it is far less intense than has been the case in recent books.
And nor does Chasing Darkness suffer as a result. It is a fine mystery novel, with a tightly-bound plot and a a typically compelling narrative and Crais' easy, seductive style. And some of the old Elvis was even back, the happy-go-lucky wisecracker of the early novels who was one of crime fiction's most entertaining characters: perhaps the one you'd most like to have a beer with.
In some ways it felt like after a marathon stint of heavily demanding and emotional Cole and Pike books, Crais felt like it was time to pause for breath, to give the characters and the readers, and perhaps himself, something of a break.
All of which, I realise, makes it sound a little lightweight, but don't be misled, this is still a hell of a book and there was no shortage of substance.
Elvis shows the steel in his soul with the ruthlessness and single-mindedness with which he chases down the truth of the sad case of Yvonne Bennett, the suspect for whose murder Elvis helps to clear and who later shows up dead with the photos of Bennett and a number of other victims in his hands.
Elvis pushes his friends and enemies alike to get to the truth, some, such as Carol Starkey, the bomb technician turned homicide cop who is becoming a regular in these books, far harder than he has any right to. And he shows his vulnerability as he agonises over the possibility that his work may have freed a man who went on to commit more murders.
But this is a less burdensome book than the four that preceded it, and Crais' timing is impeccable in that the series needed it: you cannot sustain that sort of pathos over a long period of time without the cracks showing.
It's a great book, and you love Crais and Elvis, you'll love this too.