Robert Crais is best known for his signature character, L.A. Private Investigator Elvis Cole. Crais, however, is too talented a craftsman to rely on a single character, as demonstrated by his recent successes with the brilliant DEMOLITION ANGEL and HOSTAGE. Still, Crais could not keep Cole away forever and, at long last, has given us THE LAST DETECTIVE, a new Elvis Cole novel that will not only sate the appetites of Cole's fan base but also anyone who is a fan of the suspense genre. This is a book that will make you happy that someone took the time to teach you how to read.
Crais wastes very little time in setting things up in THE LAST DETECTIVE. Cole's relationship with longtime love Lucy Chenier, already strained by the violence that plagues Cole's life, is further sundered when Chenier's son, Ben, disappears while Cole is babysitting him. Cole initially believes that Ben has temporarily run away due to the strain between Cole and Chenier, but a menacing telephone call soon demonstrates that Ben has been deliberately abducted for reasons of revenge having to do with Cole's dark past. At the same time, Cole's partner, Joe Pike, is dealing with the aftermath of injuries he sustained during the events of L.A. REQUIEM and finds himself unsure of his limits and abilities at a time when they, and he, will be tested to their utmost.
Complicating matters further is the arrival of Richard Chenier, Lucy's ex-husband, a wealthy and obnoxious industrialist who attempts to take over the investigation. A surprise and welcome return also occurs with the prominent reappearance of Carol Starkey, introduced in DEMOLITION ANGEL and now working in the LAPD Juvenile Division. As Cole and Pike, the police and Richard Chenier conduct their investigations, often at cross-purposes, into Ben's disappearance, Cole is forced to confront his history and his life --- and how these elements affect those whom he loves. Crais, meanwhile, writes as if he is working against the stopwatch, ratcheting the suspense level up, up, up until it is almost painful. You won't get even a quarter of the way through this book without putting the completion of reading it on the top of your "to do" list.
Be forewarned: this is a dark tale, one that eschews the wisecracking Cole of old. There is no humor here, no happy ending. The reader is given new insight not only into Cole, but also into Pike, perhaps one of the most interesting secondary characters in detective fiction since Robert Parker's Hawk. Pike is one of those people who would frighten you, even if he was on your side. God help you if he was coming for you. Seemingly invincible in previous Elvis Cole novels, Pike is slower, more vulnerable and, ultimately, more believable in THE LAST DETECTIVE. He is all the more frightening for it.
If you haven't read anything by Crais for a while, or if you have never encountered him before, THE LAST DETECTIVE is a great place to begin the experience. Just leave some time to explore the backlist of this underrated author who is slowly but inexorably receiving the attention he has so long deserved. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 31, 2004