If you have yet to begin the marvelous Elvis Cole series by Robert Crais, you've got a great treat ahead of you! Few series get off to a stronger start than Mr. Crais did with The Monkey's Raincoat, which won both the Anthony and Macavity awards for best novel while being nominated for the Edgar and Shamus awards as well. Stalking the Angel followed powerfully with classic noir style of the 1930s hard-boiled detective up against evil moderated with wise cracks. Lullaby Town updated the 1930s detective stories about Hollywood, and kept the same cynicism about Tinsel Town. Free Fall looked hard at the corruptibility of the police and found them wanting. Voodoo River added a love interest for Elvis to make him more vulnerable and appealing. Sunset Express showed us the crooked side of criminal defense work in a style like Chinatown. And the books just keep getting better from there in their characterizations, action, story-telling and excitement.
Elvis Cole is the star attraction, the co-owner of The Elvis Cole Detective Agency. He's now 40ish, ex-Army, served in Vietnam, ex-security guard, has two years of college, learned to be a detective by working under George Feider, a licensed P.I. for over 40 years, does martial arts as enthusiastically as most people do lunch, and is fearless but not foolish. He's out to right the wrongs of the world as much as he is to earn a living. Elvis has a thing for Disney characters (including a Pinocchio clock), kids, cats, scared clients and rapid fire repartee. He drives a Jamaica yellow 1966 Corvette Stingray convertible, and usually carries a Dan Wesson .38 Special.
His main foil is partner, Joe Pike, an ex-Marine, ex-cop who moves quietly and mysteriously wearing shades even in the dark . . . when he's not scaring the bad guys with the red arrows tattooed on his deltoids, which are usually bare in sleeveless shirts. Although he has an office with Elvis, Pike spends all of his time at his gun shop when not routing the bad guys with martial arts while carrying and often using enough firepower to stop a tank. Pike rarely speaks . . . and never smiles. A standing gag is trying to catch Pike with a little twitch of his lips indicating he might possibly be amused. But he's there when you need him. He drives a spotless red Jeep.
Robert Parker's Spenser is the obvious character parallel for Elvis, but Spenser and Elvis are different in some ways. Cole is more solitary, usually being alone when he's not working. Cole is very much L.A. and Spenser is ultra blue collar Boston. Cole is martial arts while Spenser boxes and jogs. What they have in common is that they're both out to do the right thing, with money being unimportant. They both love to crack wise as they take on the bad guys. The bad guys hate the "humor" in both cases, and can?t do much about it. The dialogue written for each is intensely rich.
Mr. Crais has a special talent for making you care about his characters, especially the clients and their kids. You'll want to know what happens to them. With a lot of experience in script writing, Mr. Crais also knows how to set the scene physically and make you feel it. He may be out finest fiction writer about physical movement. He gives you all the clues to picture what's going on . . . but draws back from giving so much detail that you can't use your own imagination to make things better.
On to Indigo Slam, the seventh book in the series. The title refers to using an unusual ploy to capture an important advantage.
The book opens with a moving prologue in which a father and his three children enter the Federal witness protection program in a terrifying way. Three years later, Teresa (Teri) Haines, 15, and her brother Charles, 12, and their sister Winona, 9, arrive at Elvis's office to hire him to find their father, a printer, who has been gone for eleven days. He does this every so often. Their mother is dead. Elvis isn't sure whether to turn them in to Children's Services or to forget the whole thing. He decides to follow them, as Teri drives off in a Saturn. He finds them in good shape, and decides to look for their father instead.
In a parallel thread, attorney Lucy Chenier, Elvis's love, arrives in Los Angeles to follow up on an opportunity to become a legal reporter for television station KROK. Elvis presses her into helping with the new clients. In the meantime, something goes wrong with her negotiations and Elvis has to detect what the problem is. The specter of her former husband's opposition to her moving to Los Angeles looms large over Lucy and Elvis by story's end.
The book is really a short story followed by three novellas that are connected by a common set of characters. The first novella focuses on finding Mr. Haines. The second novella looks into what he has been doing while he was away. The third novella is about solving the problems that face the family. In true Crais fashion, the final novella is filled with intense, violent action that will keep you turning pages as rapidly as you can read.
I especially love the local color from Southern California in this book. If you have ever been to Disneyland, you will find the sequence there to be a remarkably interesting and rewarding one from that perspective.
The book's theme is about what love is and how to express it while under fire. I thought that this was Mr. Crais's most tender and touching novel.