Friday, 13 April 2012


NOTE: This is the 500th post at Irresistible Targets. It may be worrying that it happens to be Friday 13th, but it is also auspicious that it happens to be a review of Bob Crais' latest novel, because he's one of those writers I've been following since the start, and one whom I've been fortunate enough to review frequently and meet up with regularly, but sadly less frequently.

IT will resume its more frequent service, I hope, now that I'm back from New Zealand and Nate is on the mend and on his way back soon. Sadly, on my way back via LA I just missed Bob and another of IT's favourite people, Michael Connelly, doing a joint appearance at the Santa Monica Library to discuss Raymond Chandler (see the photo bottom left).

Thanks to all of you who've followed IT so far--your comments are encouraged, and please pass the link onward if you do enjoy what you find here...

In his last novel, The Sentry, Elvis Cole protected his friend and partner Joe Pike. It didn't take long to pay the favour back. In Taken Cole is hired to find a young woman who has gone missing, and, as it turns out, she's been tkidnapped by bajadores, modern-day bandits who steal whatever the Mexican cartels are smuggling across the border. In this case, it's people, and they extort money from the families, no matter how poor, then kill their victims rather than return them. As Cole notes, it's a business dependent on quantity of kidnappings, not quality. And with Cole involved and turning over stones, the case grows to include both the cartels and the Korean mafia, the ATF, and eventually, Cole himself, when he too becomes one of the taken. But that brings Joe Pike into play.

Taken is one of Robert Crais' most ambitious novels. It begins like a classic Cole—we've almost forgotten how irreverent about hard-boiled conventions the early Elvis was, and indeed here, when he is hired, it is as the 'World's Greatest Detective'--an ironic part of his personality which has pretty much disappeared over the years. With Cole a prisoner, the novel flips, and then becomes a Joe Pike story—but not in the 50/50 mix you might expect. Because Crais does something very daring, shifting not only between multiple points of view, but also multiple timelines, moving back and forth between not only his two protagonists, but also the kidnapped girl, her boyfriend, their fellow captives and their captors. It truly is the story of all the taken.

And a brutal story it is. Last time I interviewed Bob (for Shots, on publication of The Sentry last year; you can link to it via here) we talked about Don Winslow and Savages, his exceptional and very brutal cross-border story. It seems inevitable that the excellent crime writers Los Angeles can boast would begin to focus south, and on the border, and Crais has moved adeptly into territory worked so well by Winslow and Jeff Parker. And for him, it's a difficult tightrope to walk: Pike is a character who can deal with violence and keep even huge body counts on an even keel for the reader, but Cole's character is different. Over his past few novels, Crais has brought the characters closer together, and here he's got the tone right throughout, balancing brutality with humanity. And it ends with a simple scene that is so Californian in its metaphor, yet so touching as well, that it re-validates the whole concept of the book (validate, of course, is a key Californian word).

Along the way we also see characters who seem poised to recur: Joe Pike's mercenary colleague Jon Stone and ATF bigwig Nancie Stendahl, who seems a worthy friend/foil for either Cole or Pike or both. It struck me as I raced through this compulsive story that Crais has come a long way since The Monkey's Raincoat, and so have his characters. They've grown together and the books are better for it.

TAKEN by Robert Crais
Orion £12.99 ISBN 9781409116035

1 comment :

Robin Ramsay said...

Hi Mike. You are certainly right about how far Crais has come. The first two or three of the Elvis Cole series now seem pretty limp. In striking contrast to Connelly, who hit the ground running with Black Echo and Black Ice, which have not dated at all. (Or am I saying that Connelly hasn't developed?)
And thanks for the reference to Jeff Parker - a new name! And we crime addicts always need some new names.