Joe Pike - ex-marine, ex-LAPD officer, ex-mercenary for hire
(Jump over to read a review of The First Rule)
(Jump over to read a review of Chasing Darkness, The Forgotten Man, The Last Detective, etc.)
(Reviewed by Hagen Baye JUL 15, 2005)
“I am qualified as a scout/sniper and served in Force Recon, mostly on long-range reconnaissance teams, hunter/killer teams, and priority target missions. I’m a black belt qualified in tae kwon do, kung fu, wing chun, judo, and ubawazi….”
Robert Crais has been on a particular roll with his last several books. The Two Minute Rule, The Last Detective, Hostage and L.A. Requiem, besides each making The New York Times bestseller list, represent works of superbly written, fast-paced, tension-filled, can’t put-down crime fiction.
The reading public appears to be cognizant of the roll that Crais is on, as this latest book, The Watchman, opened at #5 on The New York Times list the week it was released. While inclusion on that list is not necessarily synonymous with literary accomplishment, in Crais’s case it certainly is.
The Watchman is Crais’s 14th published novel, 11 of which are part of his Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series of crime fiction. Actually, each of the previous 10 books of the series were referred to as Elvis Cole novels, where wise-cracking, wild-and-funny, Hawaiian-shirt-kind-of-guy Elvis Cole, the self-acclaimed World’s Greatest Detective, is the principal character, and his seemingly withdrawn, stoically quiet partner and best-friend, Joe Pike, plays a secondary role (albeit, in more cases than not, Pike is the cavalry coming to the rescue just in a knick of time). The Watchman, on the other hand, is specifically labeled “A Joe Pike Novel” and Joe Pike, an ex-marine, ex-LAPD officer, ex-mercenary for hire for the right cause, is the lead, with Elvis Cole, still recuperating from the terrible injuries suffered at the hands of the psychopath of the 10th Cole/Pike book, The Forgotten Man, playing a secondary (yet extremely helpful) role.
While racing through LA streets in the middle of the night with no regard to speed, lights, her own or anyone else’s safety, as well as disregarding the $200,000 Aston Martin she is driving, 22-year old, spoiled and rich socialite Larkin Conner Barkley slams into another car blocks from her luxury loft. Inexplicably, the injured driver and his front seat woman passenger hurriedly drive away from the scene of the accident before the arrival of medical assistance. Even more surprising, the injured man in the back seat dashes off and disappears on foot. The next thing Larkin knows, she’s being questioned by the Feds about the mysterious man who fled on foot, is put into protective custody, and then is the target of a number of attempts on her life. Larkin is told that the couple are George and Elaine King, a high-powered husband and wife real estate brokerage team, whom the Feds say have partnered up with the mystery man whom the Feds identify as Alex Meesh, an indicted, refugee murderer, reputed to be affiliated with a South American drug cartel. Larkin is told that Meesh is looking to kill her to prevent her from providing testimony that would connect him with the Kings.
Joe Pike gets a call from a shadowy fellow he owes a favor to for assistance the fellow provided that led to his and Cole’s rescuing Cole’s ex-girlfriend’s son from kidnappers who snatched the boy while under Cole’s care in The Last Detective. The quid pro quo is Pike’s agreement to bodyguard Larkin. Actually, the request for Pike originates from a Bud Flynn, who was hired by Larkin’s father to protect her. Significantly, Bud Flynn had been Pike’s training officer as a rookie LA policeman, and Pike had come to love and respect Flynn and considered him to be the father he never had.
By the time Pike is brought in, there has already been three failed attempts on Larkin’s life. The first was a surprise attack on her home when she wasn’t there; the next two, while she is protected by US Marshals in supposed undisclosed locations. When Pike takes over, the Feds provide a “safe” house which is attacked soon after Pike and Larkin arrive. This pattern repeats itself when they move to a second Fed-provided “safe” house. Pike and Larkin escape only after Pike shoots it out with the intruders, killing a total of five men in the process.
It becomes clear to Pike that he has to get Larkin to a truly secure place unknown to the Feds, Flynn and Larkin’s father, for somehow word is being leaked to Meesh and his hoodlums about Larkin’s whereabouts. To protect Larkin, Pike knows he, aided by Cole’s investigative assistance, has to flush Meesh out and eliminate the threat Meesh represents. Rather than flee from Meesh and his forces, Pike pursues them, converting the hunter into the prey by becoming the hunter himself.
However, in addition to the security breach, this is an extremely difficult task for a handful of other reasons. For one, Larkin is a spoiled, hard to control woman, who seeks constant attention and who does not fully appreciate the danger she is in. Pike has to muster additional energy to keep her in check. Also, there is no identification or fingerprint matches on the five men that Pike killed, except to note that they appeared to be Latino. And finally, during the shoot-out at the second safe house, Pike drops and is unable to retrieve a registered gun. This means that the local police will know that he was involved and due to the security breach, the bad guys were likely to also find this out and go after him.
Sure enough, the day after Pike loses his gun, Meesh’s forces storm Pike’s gun shop (Pike vacated his employees earlier) and also his condo (Pike has one of his employees, a former LAPD cop, keep an eye on his apartment). Pike uses this as an opportunity. When one of the bad guys returns to stake out the apartment (as reported to Pike by his employee), sitting in wait to attack Pike, Pike turns the tables by waiting the fellow out and following him back to where he was staying. Pike gets information from this fellow and a second member of the gang, and is able to identify some of the attackers, to learn they came from Ecuador and most importantly to obtain a couple of their disposable cell phones. Pike also retrieves a couple of their guns and some fingerprint samples.
The phones, the guns and the fingerprints yield particularly useful information that advances Pike’s pursuit of Meesh. As he and Cole dig deeper and deeper, however, they also find more reasons to distrust the Feds. Pike is also troubled that the Feds were allowed by LAPD brass to take the guns retrieved from the assassins he killed at the “safe” houses without providing the evidence receipt that is standard police protocol in order to maintain the all-critical chain of evidence. In any event, one has to read the book to see how exactly Pike and Cole marshal their considerable resources, including key allies within the community that the LAPD and/or Feds are unable to tap, in their efforts to protect Larkin’s life.
But more than just the tension-packed story about protecting Larkin, this is also a story about the person of Joe Pike. Pike’s and Larkin’s relationship flesh out certain aspects of Pike’s personality. Initially, they are at loggerheads, as they are as different as different can be. Larkin needs to be the center of attention and Pike’s reluctance to talk (and the fact that he never smiles or laughs) drives her crazy. They are opposites, but after a while they do connect, learn how to get along and became simpatico. They even come to realize that they share something in common.
Crais portrays Pike as a most complex person, who has seen, endured and suffered some mighty painful things during his life. The abuse Pike suffered at the hands of his father, and his frustration over his inability to protect his mother, served as an original impetus for his desire to protect. As he gets older, his physical ability and training and discipline enables him to be a most effective protector; his two combat tours as a Marine further sharpen and broaden his skills.
Then, he is drawn to the LAPD by its motto “to protect and serve.” However, when his partner commits suicide, Pike sacrifices his beloved badge by making it appear that he accidentally shot the partner, so the partner’s family would receive the benefit checks that would have otherwise been forfeited by the partner’s suicide. “[Pike] thought of his own badge. He had given it up to help Wozniak’s family. He had loved that badge and everything it represented, but he had loved Wozniak’s family more. Families needed to be protected. Families needed someone to be the protector. This is just how Pike felt.”
His work as a mercenary introduced him to many of the atrocities around the world. All of this and untold more results in making Pike who he turned out to be, including one who harbors tremendous hatred toward bullies of every kind, from those like his father to the kind that Meesh represents. With respect to bullies, his preference is to dole out punishment, rather than justice. The following is a telling comment of Cole about his partner:
“Pike’s mouth twitched, and Cole wondered if Larkin had noticed that Pike never laughed or smiled. As if the part of a man who could feel that free was dead in Pike, or buried so deep that only a twitch could escape.”
And, then, there is this poignant statement from the narrator:
“[Pike] played the cards he was dealt even when they were bad cards, and he lived with the result."
“But sometimes he wished for more.”
Pike is a most profound character. He is a heroic, highly skilled protector, yet not without vulnerability, his own Achilles heel--making him quite human and mortal like the rest of us. Crais’s exploration of the forces that made Pike the person he is, is an aspect of this book that makes it more than an ordinary crime fiction novel, albeit a suspenseful, fast-paced, hard-to-put-down one.
- Amazon readers rating: from 45 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Watchman at the author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)Elvis Cole / Joe Pike series:
- The Monkey's Raincoat (1988) /
- Stalking the Angel (1989)
- Lullaby Town (1992)
- Free Fall (1993)
- Voodoo River (1995)
- Sunset Express (1996)
- Indigo Slam (1997)
- L.A. Requiem (1999)
- The Last Detective (January 2003)
- The Forgotten Man (February 2005)
- Chasing Darkness (July 2008)
Joe Pike / Elvis Cole Series:
Movies from books:
- Hostage (2005)
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- The official Robert Crais Web site
- BlogCritics interview with Robert Crais
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Last Detective
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Forgotten Man
- MostlyFiction.com review of Chasing Darkness
- January Magazine review of The Watchman
- MostlyFiction.com review of The First Rule
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Sentry
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About the Author:
Robert 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.