Two years ago I'd heard of Robert Crais, in the sense of seeing his books on shelves in bookstores, but his name didn't mean much to me. I'd even bought and read one of his non-series books, Demolition Angel, which wasn't a waste of time, but didn't drive me to seek out the rest of Crais' oeuvre.
A couple of summers ago, however, I discovered Crais' Elvis Cole mystery series. I'd seen Crais and the series praised in reviews and on websites. When a book I want to read is part of a series, I try to acquire the earlier books in the series so I can start at the beginning. That's what I did with Elvis Cole. From the first page of The Monkey's Raincoat (1987)--the first Elvis Cole book--I relished everything about the character and the writing. I knew I'd be following this series and this writer from then on.
I quickly sought out every other book in the series and tore through them hungrily. I loved the character of Elvis Cole from the first page of the first book. He's a former Army Ranger turned wisecracking private investigator, who wears a Mickey Mouse watch, does yoga to keep in shape, and calls himself the World's Greatest Detective. His jokes are corny but funny; his easygoing humor hides a mordant intelligence and keen observational skills. He's relentless and tough, deadly when he has to be, but has a tender heart. What makes the series great is how Crais develops the character of Elvis Cole more with each book in the series. Now, like every other anxious fan, I wait for the annual installments.
Notably, in case you're a fan of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series,
Elvis Cole made an un-named appearance in Michael Connelly’s novel, LOST LIGHT. Harry Bosch made a similar, un-named appearance in RC’s THE LAST DETECTIVE. RC and MC are friends, and thought this would be a fun way to acknowledge each other’s work.(from the FAQ on Crais' website).
Through the Cole series Crais has developed a secondary character so well that the character now has his own series--just started with Crais' most recent book, The Watchman, subtitled "A Joe Pike Novel" (2007).
Joe Pike is Elvis Cole's partner, mysterious, a former Marine war hero, machine-like and powerful in his focus on the job at hand, both fascinating and frightening to everyone he meets. Just as Crais developed Elvis Cole throughout the series, he also developed Joe Pike's character (although at a slower, less-revelatory pace). Pike had a starring role in L.A. Requiem (1999), which not only was a powerful novel, but also revealed Pike's past so that we understand why he is the way he is. We know what drives Joe Pike; unlike Cole, he's not easy to like, but he's powerful, riveting and charismatic. Many critics called L.A. Requiem Crais' best work to that date, and the novel marked a distinct change in Crais' writing style.
Crais also has written three non-series novels: Demolition Angel (2000), Hostage (2001), and The Two-Minute Rule (2006). I mentioned Demolition Angel earlier in this post; it's a dark book, well-done for its kind, but with a damaged, bitter heroine with whom I could not identify. Hostage has a lot of action (well, all Crais' novels have a lot of action) and was made into a pretty-good movie starring Bruce Willis. The Two-Minute Rule features an ex-con bank robber out to avenge the death of his only son; I understand Crais may be writing a second novel featuring that character, Max Holman.
I enjoy seeing the progress of a writer's development, which is why I always try to read an author's books in the order in which they were published. I find Crais' writing addictive. I can see his development as a writer from the earlier books through the latest. The earlier Cole books were well-done, but lighter, with a few bones of their storytelling skeletons poking through. The later books are richer, more complex, and with much broader scope.
Too bad I have to wait another year for the next Robert Crais book.