There is nothing better than good storytelling in a novel. I
love the experience of sitting down during the course of an
afternoon, cracking a book open and wondering where the time went
some several hours later, with 300-plus pages having flown by.
Robert Crais is one of those authors who consistently delivers the
goods, developing a straightforward plot line but throwing in a
surprising twist or two before all is resolved.
Until recently, Crais has earned his bread and butter almost
exclusively with a stretch of novels featuring wisecracking private
investigator Elvis Cole. In 2007’s THE WATCHMAN, his focus
switched to Joe Pike, Cole’s more or less silent partner in
the firm. Following the brilliant CHASING DARKNESS, Pike returns as
the center of attention in THE FIRST RULE. Set aside an afternoon;
you won’t want to stop reading once you start.
Loyalty is the fuel that runs the engine of Pike’s
personality. Pike used to be a professional military contractor,
unapologetically doing the rough work that permitted decent people
to sleep peacefully in their beds. He worked with a man named Frank
Meyer --- who left that job and Pike behind --- and achieved the
American dream of a loving wife, family and successful business.
But that idyllic existence ends abruptly when Meyer and his family
are horrifically murdered in a home invasion, the latest in a
series of crimes taking place in the Los Angeles area that have
been visited upon criminals with large caches of cash or drugs.
Pike is on a two-fold mission: revenge for Meyer, a friend with
whom he had not spoken in 10 years, and clearing his name.
He sets about this endeavor single-mindedly, calling in favors
for information, following one thread to another and seeing where
it all leads. Cole is there to help, his wiseguy remarks masking a
clear-edged competence. Jon Stone, a stone-cold operative who
worked with Pike and Meyer in the past, is also along --- and
gladly so --- as Pike follows a trail that leads straight to a
quarrel with the Eastern European organized crime syndicate, which
is fueled by guns and…something else.
It is that “something else” that got Meyer and his
family killed, and when revealed, it will also uncover a side to
Pike that has heretofore remained hidden. Along the way, Pike must
make a deal with the FBI, one that compromises the promise he made
to himself on behalf of his dead friend. His dilemma, accordingly,
is how to fulfill each. Watching him do it is what keeps the book
humming right down to the final paragraph.
Crais, who has been mesmerizing since his first novel appeared
well over a decade ago, keeps getting better and better. It will be
hard for him to top THE FIRST RULE, a dark journey through the
furnace of L.A.’s criminal underground. I have a feeling,
however, that he will.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011