Robert Crais

Elvis Cole - Private Detective, Los Angeles, California
Joe Pike - ex-marine, ex-LAPD officer, ex-mercenary for hire

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"The Forgotten Man"

(Reviewed by Hagen Baye JUL 15, 2005)

The Forgotten Man is the 10th book of Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole series of crime fiction. The book picks up where book # 9, The Last Detective, leaves off. Elvis has recuperated from the injuries he sustained during his and Joe Pike’s (Elvis’s best friend and partner) heroic rescue of Ben Chenier, the son of his now former girlfriend, Lucy, from a group of murderous kidnappers. While he has survived his physical injuries, Elvis is still smarting over Lucy’s leaving him.

The Forgotten Man opens with Elvis’s being awakened from a fitful sleep in the middle of the night by a phone call from a police officer who asks him to come downtown and identify the body of a murder victim. The officer tells Elvis that just before the man died he said that he was Elvis’s father and was looking for Elvis. Elvis had never known his father and was not sure if his mother even knew his father’s name. The police officer who discovered the body tells Elvis that news clips about Elvis’s heroic rescue of Ben were found on the dead man’s person.

Although Elvis is dubious about the dead man actually being his father, his curiosity is nevertheless piqued by the man’s dying words, and he is hurting so much about losing Lucy that he welcomes the distraction of a murder investigation. Working independently but in conjunction with the LAPD’s investigation, Cole learns that the murder victim was using an alias and harboring some serious guilt. He had self-tattooed his body with a multitude of crucifixes, in a manner that appeared more desecratory than pious in nature. Elvis finds out that this man paid female “escorts” $200 for an hour of their time to pray with him. He also learns that for some mysterious reason the guy disappeared from the face of the earth without leaving a forwarding address and thereby walked away from substantial sums of settlement money due him on account of a botched operation when he was a boy.

While investigating his purported father’s murder, unknown to Cole and everyone else, a paranoid, psychotic associate of the dead man, who for no reason imagines that Cole killed the man, is trailing Elvis. This associate is also tormented by buzzing sounds he hears in his head and thinks that armies have been dispatched to kill him. Crais‘s use of multiple narrators permits the reader to know of this lurking maniac and the unknown dangers about to befall Cole and provides significant tension and suspense to the story. Cole’s ultimate life-and-death encounter with this maniac provides the climax to the story and resolves the vexing mystery of the murder of the “forgotten man.”

Cole’s brilliant investigation of the dead man’s murder is only one of the levels on which this book operates. What is happening inside Coles’ heart and head is perhaps central to the story. Besides being devastated over being spurned by his lover, Lucy, the murder of someone claiming to be his father is a stark reminder to Cole that he is a fatherless child, and he has to deal again with the anger and hurt he experienced growing up. The subtext to all that is happening is: “Why do those I want to be closest to reject me? Despite no dad and a delusional mother, I still managed to make something of myself and yet I am still shunned.” In no other book of the series does Elvis Cole feel as vulnerable as he does in The Forgotten Man. The wacky, happy-go-lucky, wisecracking, Hawaiian-shirt-kind-of-guy, which is the Cole character, does not make a significant appearance in this book. His fearlessness when face-to-face with evil and his willingness to even risk his life to defend the innocent, qualities that are his greatest strengths, are precisely what drove Lucy away from him, even despite her being aware of her ex-husband ’s duplicitous set-up. This troubles Cole to the core and reveals another side to his character.

An additional subplot is Carol Starkey’s falling in love with Cole. Starkey is the LAPD officer who was the principal character of Demolition Angel, one of the two stand-alone, non-Cole series novels by Crais, and she is an important character in Cole #9, The Last Detective. (The other stand-alone book by Crais is Hostage, a superb, action-packed, suspenseful book, recently made into a motion picture with the same title, starring Bruce Willis.) Cole is oblivious to Starkey’s feelings for him, but he did begin to notice her attractiveness by the end of the book. This is an unresolved loose end, as is his relationship with Lucy, undoubtedly to be taken up in the next book of the series.

The Forgotten Man is extraordinarily well done and further solidifies Crais’s status of one of the finest crime writers of this day and likewise solidifies Elvis Cole’s stature as one of the more fascinating series characters in crime fiction.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 109 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Forgotten Man at the author's website

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"The Last Detective"

(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale MAR 15, 2003)

Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are back in this long awaited sequel to L.A. Requiem (1999). Fans of Crais will not be disappointed in this fast-paced story that leaves you breathless as you turn page after page in this 9th book in the series.

Read excerptWhile Elvis' girlfriend, local television legal commentator Lucy Chenier, is out of town covering a trial, Elvis watches her 10-year-old son Ben. Unfortunately, just before Lucy's return, Elvis realizes that Ben is missing. His search for Ben is unsuccessful and he soon receives a call from the kidnappers.

Lucy's wealthy ex-husband, the obnoxious Richard Chenier, is quick to arrive to the scene to provide "assistance" with his own security director, Leland Myers as well as Myers' two assistants. It's clear that Chenier hates Cole and accuses him of causing the kidnapping as well as previous incidents that Lucy and Ben had to endure. Chenier wants Lucy and Ben to return to their former New Orleans home town.

Elvis uses his own investigative techniques to help the police and his own investigations to track down clues on the kidnappers. Carol Starkey, the former bomb squad technician of Crais' standalone Demolition Angel, is the main investigative detective searching for the kidnappers. Richard Chenier attempts to limit the presence of Cole during the various investigations, but fortunately for Cole, Starkey doesn't listen to this request or the demands of her supervisors. Starkey is the same tough, foul-mouthed, wisecracking detective as in Demolition Angel. Frankly, I found her act a bit tiring in that book, but her minor, yet significant, presence in The Last Detective is just right.

When the kidnappers first contact Cole, they say they took Ben to pay back Cole for his alleged role in causing unnecessary deaths in Vietnam of the Vietnamese and the other four members of his Ranger team. Cole denies these accusations, and through flashbacks we get to learn some significant history that has shaped Cole as in this scene where Cole is bringing back his dead team member, Roy Abbott.

"They told us there was just one man. We're too heavy. We can't take off!"

The turbine howled as the pilot tried to climb. The helicopter wallowed like a whale.

The crew chief grabbed Abbott's harness.

"Push him off! We can't fly!"

Cole leveled his M16 at the center of the crew chief's chest. The crew chief let go.

"He's dead, Ranger, push him off! You're going to get us killed!"

"He's coming with me."

"We're too heavy! We can't fly!"

The turbine spooled louder. Oily smoke swirled through the door.

"Push him out!"

Cole wrapped his finger over the trigger. Rod and Fields and Johnson were gone, but Abbott was going home. Families take care of their own.

"He's coming with me."

The Cav troops knew that Cole would pull the trigger. Rage and fear burned off the young Ranger like steam. He would do anything and kill anyone to complete this mission. The Cav troops understood. They pushed off ammo cans and rucksacks, anything they could shed to lighten the load.

The turbine shrieked. The rotor found hold in the thick humid air, and the helicopter lumbered into the sky. Cole lowered his weapon across Abbott's chest and protected his brother until they were home.

Since the kidnappers mention his Vietnam past, Cole tries to find clues to his past that could help find who the kidnappers are. He contacts the family of his former Ranger team, including Dale Abbott, Roy's father. Dale gives Cole some needed confidence building as in this passage:

"I want to read something you wrote. I don't know if you'll remember, but this meant a lot to me. This is you, now, this is you writing: "I don't have a family, so I liked hearing about Roy's. I told him that he was lucky to come from people like you and he agreed. I want you to know that he fought to the end. He was a Ranger all the way, and he did not quit. I am sorry that I could not bring him home to you. I am so sorry I failed."

Mr. Abbott's voice grew thick and he stopped reading.

"You didn't fail, son. You brought Roy home. You brought our boy home."

My eyes burned.

"I tried, Mr. Abbott. I tried so hard."

"You did! You brought my boy back to us, and you did not fail. Now you go find this other little boy, and you bring him home, too. No one here blames you, son. Do you understand that? No one here blames you, and never did."

I tried to say something, but couldn't.

Mr. Abbott cleared his throat, and then his voice was strong.

"I only have one more thing to say. What you wrote in your letter, that part about you not having a family, that's the only part wasn't true. You've been part of our family since the day Mama opened the mail. We don't blame you. Son, we love you. That's what a family does, doesn't it, love you no matter what? Up there in Heaven, Roy loves you, too."

This book is fast paced and Crais keeps the pressure on the reader with the constant reminder of how long it has been since Ben was found missing. The sleepless, driving Cole and the steady Pike never stop in their investigations as they track down the kidnappers to find Ben.

The Last Detective is presented in several points of view, mostly from the first person of Elvis Cole, but also in the third person of Joe Pike and Ben Chenier. Some people may find this distracting or confusing, but this didn't really create any problems in following the story.

This is the third Crais book that I have read and the second Elvis Cole book. I had read Demolition Angel and The Monkey's Raincoat and although I enjoyed them, I was not yet convinced that Crais should be added to my must-read list. After reading The Last Detective, Crais is definitely on it. I've just ordered some older Cole series books and moved up Hostage on my TBR pile.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 131 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Last Detective at MostlyFiction.com



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Elvis Cole / Joe Pike series:

Joe Pike / Elvis Cole Series:

Other:

Movies from books:

 

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Book Marks:

 

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About the Author:

Robert CraisRobert Crais was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, among a family of cops (three uncles and two cousins are, or were, police officers) before moving west to LA in the 1970s. Crais has written TV scripts for Hill Street Blues, Cagney and Lacey, Miami Vice and L.A. Law.  His first novel, The Monkey's Raincoat won both an Anthony Award and a Macavity Award. It has since been selected as one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. His novels have been translated into 36 languages and are bestsellers around the world. Robert Crais is the 2006 recipient of the Ross MacDonald Literary Award.

Robert and his wife live in the Santa Monica mountains.

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