Generally speaking, I prefer dogs to people. I can think of literally hundreds of folks by name who I would throw under the bus before I would let it hit a three-legged mixed breed street cur that I had never seen before. Accordingly, I was a mark for SUSPECT by Robert Crais before I even cracked its binding --- and it’s not even an Elvis Cole book. Of course, it’s not your grandfather’s LAD, A DOG either. Rather, it’s a story (and a mighty fine one) about a damaged man and a broken dog, both of whom are grievously injured in the line of duty, who are thrown together by fate and become, to the extent possible, whole once again.
"If you’re a dog person, you will get SUSPECT almost from the jump; if you’re not, it will take you a few pages. Regardless of your initial viewpoint, by book’s end you will be sorry that the story is over."
The damaged man is LAPD police officer Scott James. When what initially appears to be a traffic accident turns into a violent double murder, the resultant shootout leaves Scott grievously injured and his partner dead. Physically scarred and emotionally fragile, he nonetheless eschews taking a medical disability and instead leapfrogs his way into the K9 unit. It is a last chance and a long shot for Scott, who has never owned a dog in his life. Nevertheless, he feels an odd kinship with Maggie, who is not fit for duty. A canine Marine who saw three tours of combat duty in the Mideast, Maggie lost her handler and was herself seriously injured in a sniper attack. Hobbled and gun-shy, they are as unlikely a pair as one would find. Yet, as Scott begins putting himself together, he finds that he and Maggie, while suffering markedly similar physical and emotional injuries, are able to lean on each other for support.
These kindred souls of different species, paired partly by chance and partly by choice, gradually become their own pack. Scott also methodically joins the all-but-abandoned investigation into the hit team that put his career on life support and killed his partner. It is an interesting investigation, one in which Scott uses the absence of a key piece of evidence to slowly but surely follow a trail to its shocking and dangerous end, one in which each member of the new partnership demonstrates the ability and desire to make the ultimate sacrifice for the other.
The puzzling mystery and the backdrop of Los Angeles that comprise this book may remind you of the best work of Michael Connelly, though it should be noted that Crais has been hoeing his own patch, and doing it well, for over 20 years. While he could probably get away with phoning in a book or two at this stage of his career, he instead has given us one of his best novels to date. He also peppers SUSPECT with an interesting cast of supporting characters. The best of these by far in Dominick Leland, who runs the LAPD K9 Platoon’s primary training facility with an iron fist, a stony (but colorful) demeanor, and a heart of gold, the latter of which is reserved exclusively for his charges. I’m not sure how it happened, or if it was even Crais’s intent, but Leland steals the book out from under Scott and Maggie.
If you’re a dog person, you will get SUSPECT almost from the jump; if you’re not, it will take you a few pages. Regardless of your initial viewpoint, by book’s end you will be sorry that the story is over.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2013