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Sunday, January 31, 2010

The First Rule, by Robert Crais (hardcover, $26.95)

L.A. private eye Elvis Cole once again takes a backseat as his silent but deadly associate, Joe Pike, takes center stage. I liked this novel much better than the first book to star Joe Pike, The Watchman. That first Pike book destroyed the mysterious, inaccessible, Clint Eastwood-in-a-spaghetti-western image I had of him. He had been in and out of the Elvis Cole novels on silent panther feet up until then. Author Robert Crais never really let the panther out of the bag in terms of Pike's background and inner thoughts, so it was a shock to find out that Joe Pike had feelings and parents and a job and wasn't from Planet Zybx or Area 59. Say it ain't so, Joe!

But time marches on and I've gotten used to a Joe Pike with free will, someone who doesn't just appear whenever Elvis thinks him into existence. Okay, that sentence sounded nutty, because Crais does think him into existence. Anyhow…

Joe Pike was a mercenary. His teammates and buddies were tough guys like Joe. They all had been trained in multiple ways of killing people, of viewing a contract in a dispassionate fashion, of always being a few steps ahead of the opposition. It was a sad/happy day when one of his buddies decided to quit the mercenary lifestyle to settle down, marry, and have children. Joe had not had contact with that buddy, Frank Meyer, in years. Not until the police cornered Joe and demanded to know what he knew of the mass killing in Frank's house. Then the contact was limited to Joe's view of Frank's dead body.

Joe decides to avenge Frank. Of course. He begins his own investigation, and discovers in rapid order that this is the latest in a series of home invasions in which the residents have been killed, a Serbian nanny was also killed, there were diapers in her room and no baby in the house, and the nanny's sister carries a gun in her purse.

All of a sudden there are Serbian gangsters, Serbian prostitutes, and various Serbian underworld characters popping out of the woodwork. Where Eastern European gangsters go, the police and FBI are not far behind. It's not so simple to figure out who killed Frank and why. There are also crosses and double-crosses which enliven the plot.

I'm not so shocked anymore by hearing Joe's inner thoughts, because Crais still preserves most of Joe's mystique and terrifying presence. But we now get to see the price Joe has to pay to be what he is.

I love the touches of sassiness that the Elvis Cole books have. On the other hand, there is nothing sassy or funny about Pike or the gruesome situations in which he finds himself. It's a good thing, then, that Crais has brought Elvis in to help Joe. I still prefer more Elvis and less Joe, but I enjoyed this book.

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