Our long national nightmare is over.
Yes folks, Elvis Cole is back. And with big ups to President Ford, the wait since Robert Crais delivered The Last Detective has been, well, both long and nightmarish. And things weren't all rosy for the World's Greatest Detective, either. We remembered. We waited.
The Forgotten Man, is the tenth (!) entry in the continuing tale of the afore-mentioned private eye, and is easily the most intense on various levels. What Crais accomplishes in this book will be discussed beyond the normal news cycle for such things, this much is certain. The Last Detective was Top 5 on the New York Times list, so the round is chambered, and the safety is off. This book should ignite in the marketplace.
We are reunited with Our Hero in the middle of the night, as he is awakened by a phone call. Informed by the police a man has been found, shot dead in an alley, and his final words spoke to a desire to find his son, one Elvis Cole. That on the body were clippings related to Elvis' big case a while back. We are reminded Elvis never knew his father. Cole's life wasn't that great before the phone rang, and clearly it's not going to improve anytime soon.
And thus Crais skillfully brings us forward and back--into the crazed violence of events populating the "big case" in The Last Detective, and left Elvis in such a state as this. Those new to his writing, have no fear, you will feel fully informed in short order. And then hang on to something.
As Elvis gets into the new case, we are of course re-introduced to Joe Pike, Cole's enigmatic partner, radiating both menace and calm. We like to think Crais honors the tradition of the sidekick with Joe Pike. That's tradition, not cliche'. Not to mention that Crais has spent an incredible amount of time, and most of L. A. Requiem, giving full voice to Pike as a core value of the series. And we are re-introduced to Carol Starkey, first seen in Demolition Angel, and fast becoming vital to this series as well. The voice with which Crais writes her scenes is full of grit and honey. She is a great character and brings the series a fresh breath. There are numerous scenes with Starkey where the empathetic reader will nearly ache for her, she's written that well.
Pike and Starkey pitch in to help Elvis deal with the possibilities this case presents, and they are many. Elvis had a very organized mythology about his unknown father, and the idea that lying on a slab in the morgue might be the icon of that mythology, and could either codify or explode that mythology, staggers him.
Crais brings us to a point where we realize that, hey, we really don't know that much about Elvis' youth. We've known just enough, but it's limited. The soul of The Forgotten Man is the light Crais shines on young Elvis' quest to find his father. We meet people are vital to what Cole has become, and some of them play a role in the book's current events as well, so that's fun.
Over the course of the last three books, Crais has been taking Elvis down a pretty dark road. The first few books in the series were more of the straight-ahead variety. Massively entertaining, laugh-out-loud funny in places, action-packed and dialogue-smart. Then, as we moved into Indigo Slam and Sunset Express, it was clear Crais wasn't content in that place, that he was going to challenge us, and we'd best keep up.
With the last three books, he's shifting the borders of the PI novel. Crais' game has benefited much from the long break between L. A. Requiem and The Last Detective, when he wrote stand-alone best-sellers Demolition Angel and Hostage. The freedom gained from working outside the genre, plus the clout the success of the stand-alones brought, has allowed him to seamlessly push genre limits.
We go deep into the story of Elvis, the youngster who saturated a road-weary carnival crew with his lost-boy energy as he searched for his father, believed to be a vagabond performer. We forget the web of homicidal deviation Crais is weaving in a separate narrative. But when we are brought back, it's with a series of jolts that refresh our memories of the potential darkness of the human heart. It becomes clear early on that Elvis is hunting a psychopath, and it doesn't take too long for the tables to turn him, unknowingly, from hunter to hunted.
Lest you think this all sounds too morose, think again. The things that have become tradition in Elvisland---the investigational set-pieces, the snappy banter between Elvis and pretty much everyone---they are here, and they are better than ever. The shadings Crais has given to his characters over the course of nearly 20 years give more resonance to the humor. It becomes an island in a sea of relentless narrative propulsion.
So, let's talk about the end. When you read it, you can almost picture Crais wiping the sweat from his own brow. It's breakneck fiction at its prime, and will make for you a happy prison until you finish. And it's made more real by the interludes that come before it, the heartbreaking recollections of Elvis' young life. The way Crais' weaves the two concepts together is startling.
The Forgotten Man is the first great mystery novel of 2005. I can't imagine many more joining its rarified air. Crais has evolved and matured as a writer in a way that connects with the central nervous system of the reader, and to that, I must simply quote another Elvis and say--thank you very much!