Over a decade or so, Robert Crais has put together one of the finest PI series of the modern era. The collaboration between the author and his lead characters, private eye Elvis Cole and enforcer Joe Pike has produced some memorable novels in a genre in which the vast majority of work is quickly forgettable, even when it's good.
Part of the reason for this is that Crais has a very clear emotional investment in his characters, and that elevates the books above the ordinary. In addition, the two lead characters are highly complementary. Elvis Cole is fast-talking wiseacre, the self-proclaimed "world's greatest detective". He is charismatic, smart and sensitive. Pike, by contrast, is a silent killing machine, deadly and military-trained but with a highly developed sense of loyalty and personality morality that wins friends but would not win over many trial judges.
Until the 2007 novel, The Watchman, the tenth book in this series, Elvis Cole had been the lead in every book. This is the thirteenth book and Pike has now been the lead in three of the last four. In my review of The Watchman I described his elevation from sidekick as "a welcome change of pace in the series". Alas, I now fear he is out-staying that welcome.
Put simply, Elvis Cole is better company. He is more entertaining, garrulous, emotional and volatile. Pike is dour and uncommunicative, to the point he feels pre-programmed and predictable. The series would benefit from the return of Cole to centre stage and Pike to the shadows.
The novel starts as Pike intervenes in the vicious beating of a man in his own restaurant, in an apparent gang attack. As the man's niece arrives to pick up the pieces, Pike finds himself attracted to the woman, one Dru Rayne, and subsequently getting involved in her life and that of her uncle, despite their unwillingness to let him too close. When Dru and her Uncle disappear Pike delves further into the case - with the assistance of Elvis Cole - and discovers that nothing is quite as it seems in their lives. He quickly finds himelf in the midst of a federal narcotics investigation and the increasingly bloody search for a stash of missing cash.
This is a good crime novel - full of enterprising plot twists, and written in Crais's easy engaging style. It is well paced and cleverly plotted, mixing action, intrigue and investigation. But it lacks the charm and grace of earlier books in the series - first rate novels such as LA Requiem, The Last Detective and The Forgotten Man. It lacks the leading man, and I hope to see Elvis Cole back in the saddle soon.