It is only January, but I am going out on a limb again and predicting that a certain book will be on many “Best Of” lists by year’s end. This time I’m shaking the leaves with TAKEN by Robert Crais. This isn’t as chancy a prediction as it might appear to be. Crais is simply one of the best there is at working the grammar mine in any genre, and TAKEN is one of his best works so far. Certainly some of his best writing is found here, particularly within the last few pages (don’t peek, please). He also throws a couple of change-ups into the mix throughout the narrative (more on that in a second) to grand effect. Simply put, it’s a thriller in every sense of the word, but also a story about friendship, courage, family, love, and all the best of what makes us human beings.
"TAKEN is one of those rare books that you will want to read twice: the first time to get the story, and the second to appreciate precisely how Crais did what he did. This is magnificent, bold writing from one of the absolute best."
The basic plot centers on Elvis Cole, Crais’ mainstay character. As the novel begins, Cole is coming fresh off the benevolent notoriety of a recent newspaper feature in which he was dubbed the “World’s Greatest Detective.” The subsequent publicity results in a telephone call from a successful businesswoman named Nita Morales, who retains Cole to locate her daughter, Krista. Krista and her boyfriend, Jack Berman, have disappeared during a weekend away. Over the course of a nocturnal desert sojourn, Krista and Jack accidentally stumbled upon the abduction of a group of illegal immigrants by ruthless bajadores --- criminals who make their living stealing from other criminals. Krista and Jack are held for ransom with the other captives --- friendless and alone in a foreign country --- while the bajadores bleed money from their relatives.
Cole begins a methodical, painstaking investigation, following scant clues that eventually put him on the trail of the bajadores and their leader, an enigmatic figure known as the Syrian. Time is obviously of the essence, in part due to the fact that Berman has a secret concerning his family that he must keep close, as the bajadores will kill him immediately if it should be revealed to them. Another of their captives has a secret as well, one that enables him to form an uneasy and deadly alliance with two organized crime groups that are seeking the bajadores for their own reasons. Joe Pike, Cole’s deadly and loyal friend and business partner, is along as well, as is Jon Stone, a private contractor possessed of a skill set that makes him invaluable in a firefight, so long as he’s on your side. But the plan is so dangerous and risky that Cole may not get out alive, a chance he is willing to take to rescue an innocent whose mother waits anxiously.
Stone just leaps off of the pages. I could almost swear that I know the individual after whom Stone may be modeled, and if I’m correct, Crais literally brings the guy to life with a vividness that’s frightening. And that’s good writing, by anyone’s definition. The narrative jumps back and forth in time, from viewpoint to viewpoint. Everything is clearly labeled (“Jack and Krista: Nine Hours After They Were Taken”) so that events are easy to follow. Be assured: Crais is not being cute here. There is a purpose to this. By telling the reader in bits and pieces what is going to happen in addition to what has transpired already, he injects a mother lode of suspense into the story and ratchets it up three or five notches. The result actually makes the story flow more smoothly.
TAKEN is one of those rare books that you will want to read twice: the first time to get the story, and the second to appreciate precisely how Crais did what he did. This is magnificent, bold writing from one of the absolute best.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 27, 2012