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As the subtitle suggests, Joe Pike, the intriguing, enigmatic partner of L.A. PI Elvis Cole, takes center stage in this intense thriller from bestseller Crais (The Two Minute Rule). To pay back an old debt, Pike is coerced into protecting Larkin Barkley, a hard-partying young heiress whose life is in danger after a "wrong place wrong time" encounter that quickly escalates and spins out of control. The enemy is shadowy, violent and relentless—but the fierce, focused Pike, one of the strongest characters in modern crime fiction, is equal to the challenge. The breathless pace and rich styling are sure to appeal to readers of hard-boiled fiction in general, but since up to now Pike has mostly remained in the background, some fans of the Elvis Cole series (The Forgotten Man, etc.) may find the explicit picture that emerges of Pike at odds with the image they've constructed for themselves. (Mar.)
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*Starred Review* Larkin Barkley, a troubled L.A. woman from a wealthy family, finds herself under the protection of federal agents after emerging uninjured from a serious car accident. Something she saw warrants her death. The bad guys came close to success, probably with an assist from someone charged with her safety. Joe Pike, a former marine, LAPD officer, and mercenary, is hired to protect her on the word of his former police partner. Pike and the girl go underground after another attempt on her life leaves three would-be assassins dead. Pike then enlists his partner, private investigator Elvis Cole, to do the digging while he does the shooting. Cole targets a drug cartel's money-laundering network as the source of the death squads and identifies Barkley's father as the possible link. As the plot careens forward with nail-biting suspense, the similarities between Pike and Barkley become heartbreakingly clear. What could a taciturn killing machine have in common with a spike-haired, tattoo-on-her-ass valley girl? Every adult is a product of childhood, and Pike recognizes in his charge the same chronic emotional pain fueling his own lonely life. Saving her physical being is tough, but not as tough as saving her life. Fans of the Elvis Cole series have long wished for an installment focusing on sidekick Pike, and their wish is more than granted with this stunningly emotional thriller. Wes Lukowsky
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