If you have yet to begin the marvelous Elvis Cole series by Robert Crais, you've got a great treat ahead of you! Few series get off to a stronger start than Mr. Crais did with The Monkey's Raincoat, which won both the Anthony and Macavity awards for best novel while being nominated for the Edgar and Shamus awards as well. Stalking the Angel followed powerfully with classic noir style of the 1930s hard-boiled detective up against evil, but moderated with wise cracks. And the books just keep getting better from there in their characterizations, action, story-telling and excitement.
Elvis Cole is the star attraction, the co-owner of The Elvis Cole Detective Agency. He's now 38, ex-Army, served in Vietnam, ex-security guard, has two years of college, learned to be a detective by working under George Feider, a licensed P.I. for over 40 years, does martial arts as enthusiastically as most people do lunch, and is fearless but not foolish. He's out to right the wrongs of the world as much as he is to earn a living. Elvis has a thing for Disney characters (including a Pinocchio clock), kids, cats, scared clients and rapid fire repartee. He drives a Jamaica yellow 1966 Corvette Stingray convertible, and usually carries a .38 Special Dan Wesson.
His main foil is partner, Joe Pike, an ex-Marine, ex-cop who moves quietly and mysteriously wearing shades even in the dark . . . when he's not scaring the bad guys with the red arrows tattooed on his deltoids, which are usually bare in sleeveless shirts. Although he's got an office with Elvis, Pike spends all of his time at his gun shop when not routing the bad guys with martial arts while carrying and often using enough firepower to stop a tank. Pike rarely speaks . . . and never smiles. A standing gag is trying to catch Pike with a little twitch of his lips indicating he might possibly be amused. But he's there when you need him. He drives a red Jeep.
Robert Parker's Spenser is the obvious character parallel for Elvis, but Spenser and Elvis are different in some ways. Cole is more solitary, usually being alone when he's not working. Cole is very much L.A. and Spenser is ultra blue collar Boston. Cole is martial arts while Spenser boxes and jogs. What they have in common is that they're both out to do the right thing, with money being unimportant. They both love to crack wise as they take on the bad guys. The bad guys hate the "humor" in both cases, and can't do much about it. The dialogue written for each is intensely rich.
Mr. Crais has a special talent for making you care about his characters, especially the clients and their kids. You'll want to know what happens to them. With a lot of experience in script writing, Mr. Crais also knows how to set the scene physically and make you feel it. He may be out finest fiction writer about physical movement. He gives you all the clues to picture what's going on . . . but draws back from giving so much detail that you can't use your own imagination to make things better.
I grew up near Los Angeles, and get a special pleasure out of reading his descriptions of the differences in cities, neighborhoods, and buildings in the area. He gets in right . . . and in detail. It's a nice touch!
On to Lullaby Town, the third book in the series. The title refers to the peddler who sells dreams in Lullaby Town. In our case, it's Hollywood.
The peddler in the story is Peter Alan Nelson, a motion picture director dubbed as the King of Adventure by Time magazine (think Steven Spielberg and George Lucas wrapped up into one hyper personality), which also called him "arrogant, brilliant, demanding." In real life, he has the maturity of a male 2 year old, and has worse habits. Elvis is hired to find Nelson's ex-wife and child so Nelson can form a relationship with his son, whom he's ignored virtually from birth. The studio doesn't want Nelson distracted by all this yearning for his son because he's due to start a new movie in three weeks.
Elvis has no trouble finding the ex and the son. They've left a trail a mile wide across the country to Connecticut where Nelson's mousy young wife has turned herself into a successful banker who doesn't want to hear anything from Nelson. At this point, Elvis's job would amount to bringing them all together gently . . . except that the ex, who now calls herself Karen Lloyd, has a little problem with the biggest crime family in the East. Elvis and Joe set out to eliminate the little problem and are tested to the limits of their talents.
The story develops rapidly in small segments from quite different perspectives, usually in chapters of 4-5 pages in length, like a scene in a drama. Each change adds to a mosaic portrait of the characters and the overall situation. So the story moves fast . . . but without leaving you behind. There is enough material in this book to make two novels.
Pay particular attention to the evolution of characters of Karen Lloyd and Peter Alan Nelson. Mr. Crais does a nice job of helping you realize many sides of their characters over a period of about 10 years. That's one quality that makes this book compelling reading.
After you finish the book, you might find it helpful to think about the potential downside of possessing all that you dream of having.
Can you select better dreams to turn into reality?
Co-author of The 2,000 Percent Solution, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage