Taking the mystery community by storm, this Elvis Cole novel was nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Shamus, and Macavity awards and won both the Anthony and Macavity for Best Novel of the Year.
As another reviewer pointed out, this book is more of an "action" novel than it is mystery. There are no major plot twists that leave you in shock. There are no subtle clues at the beginning of the story you should pay attention to. You feel more that you are the listener to Elvis' outloud ramblings that help him in solving the case.
The book flows, and I found myself absorbed in the whip sharp dialogue and wondering how Cole can eat what he does while still remain healthy and on top of his game.
Elvis Cole is the star attraction, the co-owner of The Elvis Cole Detective Agency. He's 35, ex-Army, served in Viet Nam, 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 convertible, and usually carries his .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. 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 The Monkey's Raincoat:
"Winter downpour --
even the monkey
needs a raincoat."
Friend Janet Simon drags a dependent Ellen Lang to see Elvis in the opening chapter. Ellen's husband, Mort, and son, Perry, have left without warning and without a trace. Daughters Cindy and Carrie are still at home. Ellen's not sure what she should do. She's afraid husband Mort will be angry if she has Elvis look for him. Mort's a talent agent after all, and likes to call the shots.
Elvis quickly finds out that Mort's in over his head in more ways than one, starting with "client" Kimberly Marsh. Also, there's no income, almost no money left, and Mort's got a high overhead to keep. Plus, he may have made some powerful people angry. Elvis has to find Mort and Perry before it all goes wrong. Then new problems arise, and Pike tries out his skills as a baby-sitter. Pretty soon Elvis and Joe are up to their eyeballs in bad guys from all directions.
The story develops in small segments, usually in chapters of 4-5 pages in length, like a scene in a drama. Each change is a small one, but it either develops the plot or the characters. By the time you've read any three of these chapters, you've moved off into a totally new arena. So the story moves fast . . . but without leaving you behind.
Pay particular attention to Ellen's emotional maturity as she deals with what seem like unsurmountable problems. Mr. Crais does a nice job of helping you understand her perspective and how the plot complications affect her. That's one quality that takes this book above the best of the Spenser books.
After you finish the book, you might find it interesting to think about which characters benefited from their experiences in the book . . . and why. After all, that which doesn't kill us can make us stronger.
What can you do to turn adversity into a character-strengthener for you?