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L.A. Requiem (1999)
Before we begin, let me first say that Amy Reilly highly recommended this one and it got almost uniformly rave reviews from every media source I could find links to Reviews below). So it is entirely possible that you should dismiss what follows as the crotchety grousings of an ornery old man, but I thought the book, while peopled with likable heroes and displaying Crais's steady hand at dialogue, was a predictable, cliche-ridden, mistake.
Before we go any further, it would be helpfully if you peruse my review of the first book in the Elvis Cole series, The Monkey's Raincoat (Grade : B+). As you can see, I've had reservations about the series from the beginning, indeed about the direction of the hard-boiled genre generally, and several of those concerns come to a head here. In this eighth entry in the series, Robert Crais moves Joe Pike off of the periphery and places him near the center of the story. When an old girlfriend is missing, Joe asks Elvis, the first favor he's ever asked, to help him find her. The girl's wealthy Hispanic businessman father wants them to keep an eye on the police investigation because he's concerned that the cops aren't taking the matter seriously. When the case turns into a murder investigation, the father uses his pull with Hispanic City Councilmen to get Elvis loosely attached to the official police detail, much to their resentment, which is only compounded by the fact that Joe Pike is Elvis's partner.
Here the Pike story moves to the forefront as Crais fills in the details of his mysterious past. It turns out that Pike left the police force after killing his own partner in the midst of the arrest of a pedophile. Supposedly, the partner, Abel Wozniak, was beating the suspect and Pike intervened; a shot was fired and Wozniak died, shot by his own gun. Complicating the matter was the fact that Internal Affairs was investigating Wozniak's involvement with a burglary ring and Pike's desire, unfulfilled, for Wozniak's wife. Unfortunately for Cole and Pike, the officer in charge of this murder investigation, Harvey Krantz, was also involved in the original Internal Affairs investigation of the shooting, during which Pike humiliated him in spectacular, near career wrecking, fashion. He fobs Cole off on Samantha Dolan, a driven and resentful black sheep of the Robbery-Homicide team who several years before had been the inspiration for a CBS TV series. Krantz effectively freezes Cole out of the case, refusing to share reports with him or passing him doctored ones, and Dolan is uncooperative, both because she feels slighted having to baby-sit Cole and because Krantz continually denigrates her.
Pike and Cole use their own ample resources and unique techniques to develop their own leads on the case and discover that the killing was similar enough to several others that Krantz and his team are secretly treating it as a serial killer case. Not only has this information been kept from them, so has the fact that they've identified a suspect. Then, when the suspect is gunned down, all the evidence points to Pike and Cole has to try to clear his friend and get him out of jail.
As Cole feeds her useful information, Dolan becomes an ally and eventually falls in love with him, much to the consternation of Cole's girlfriend, Lucy Chenier, who has just moved to LA in order to be closer to him. Further complicating their relationship is the fact that Lucy believes Pike may have actually committed the crime and her willingness to make Cole choose between her and Pike.
I'll not reveal any more of the plot because if you're not a mystery reader there's some remote possibility that some of the twists will surprise you. Let me instead discuss some of the general weaknesses with the story. First, and foremost, is the decision to delve into Pike's background and psyche, which only serves to diminish the character. It turns out that Pike's step-father was a brutal drunkard who terrorized and battered Joe and his Mother. In a flashback, Pike recalls one particularly horrific beating and as he hides in the woods vows :
I will make myself strong.
The rest of his life, especially Marine Reconnaissance Patrol Training, is devoted to turning himself into a man who is strong enough never to be hurt physically again. This is all presumably intended to humanize Pike, but what it does is make him seem to be little more than a response to childhood trauma, the product of a formula, and an object of pity. The subplots about his romance with the dead girl and his chaste love for Wozniak's wife, likewise make him seem more tender and vulnerable than he has in prior books and his reliance on Cole over the course of the investigation make him seem almost emotionally dependent. Why? Robert B. Parker has done much the same with Hawk by now, turning him from an amoral force of nature with a bizarre loyalty to Spenser into an insipid cross between Marvin Hagler and Oprah. Both Crais and Spenser have robbed the characters of the air of mystery which made them so interesting to begin with. Where they once seemed like forces of nature, they are now merely slightly tougher versions of the hero of the series. Moreover, the conventions of the genre require the p.i. to finish off the case, so the supposed tough guys end up being saved by the detectives. None of this dilution of the characters makes any sense from a dramatic standpoint, nor are their backgrounds sufficiently interesting on their own to justify sacrificing the aura of enigma they had brought to the tales.
Equally annoying in this book is the off-the-shelf nature of the other characters. Girlfriends and their children exist for nearly the sole purpose of being placed in danger, kind of like the baby in the perambulator in The Untouchables. The bad cop is, of course, the Internal Affairs guy. The serial killer is capable of near flawless planning and commission of a fairly complex revenge plot. And Samantha Dolan's predicament, beautiful and tough but no one takes her seriously, may have been realistic twenty years ago, but in post-Rodney King, post-OJ Los Angeles, a famous female cop who was being treated unfairly by a white male supervisor would merely need to call the L. A. Times and she'd be the next Commissioner. This subplot is badly outdated and fails to understand the true power relationship between the genders and the races in the modern world.
Finally, as a general matter, the book reflects what I think is the single worst trend in the genre, the tendency to make the stories be about the detective, instead of about the case or really about the other characters involved in the case. We've come a long, and not very healthy, way since Dashiell Hammett didn't even bother to give the Continental Op a name (see Orrin's review of Red Harvest) and from the novels of Ross MacDonald, which were fundamentally stories about the crimes at the core of dysfunctional families. Most of the mystery in L. A. Requiem concerns uncovering the real Joe Pike and exploring Elvis's relationship with him. Blech! Spare us.
Robert B. Parker tantalized us several times with glimpses of what the Spenser series could have achieved, in A Savage Place (read Orrin's review) when Spenser went to L.A. on a case without Susan or Hawk, and in the sequence of books during which Susan had abandoned Spenser. Crais has reached a point where it's in the best interest of the Elvis Cole series to ditch Pike and Cole's love interests for a while, maybe send him East for a couple of cases on his own, which would perforce return the focus to case and clients. Unfortunately, the book ends with him voicing his love for L. A. and vowing to rebuild his relationship with Lucy. One fears a slow decline into Hart to Hart and heart-to-heart territory.
-AUTHOR SITE: RobertCrais.com
-EXCERPT: Prologue of The Watchman by Robert Crais
-FILMOGRAPHY: Robert Crais (IMDB)
-Robert Crais (Wikipedia)
-Joe Pike, Created by Robert Crais (Thrilling Detective)
-INTERVIEW: The Explosive Talents of Robert Crais (Kevin Burton Smith, May 2000, January Magazine)
-REVIEW: of The Watchman by Robert Crais (
-REVIEW: of the Watch,man (Mel Odom, BlogCritics)
-REVIEW: of The Watchman (Sandy Mitchell, Suite 101)
-REVIEW: of The Last Detective by Robert Crais (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
Book-related and General Links:
-The Official Robert Crais Web Site
-The Elvis Cole Web Page
-INTERVIEW : Robert Crais (Nick Hasted, Guardian Unlimited)
-INTERVIEW: (Ann Online)
-INTERVIEW: (JAMES BUCKLEY, JR., Book Page)
-INTERVIEW : with Robert Crais (Kevin Burton Smith, January Magazine)
-Interview with Robert Crais (Paul Bishop, Book Radio)
-INTERVIEW: george jr. / november 1996 / features / q & a / robert crais (George, Jr.)
-INTERVIEW: ( JIM KNIPPENBERG, The Cincinnati Enquirer)
-AUDIO INTERVIEW: (Oline Cogdill, The Mystery Corner, Orlando Sun-Sentinel)
-PROFILE: Cooking secrets no mystery to writer: Detective Elvis Cole learned to cook from his creator, crime novelist Robert Crais, who fixes a fine filet of beef (Sara Perry, Columnist, The Oregonian)
-PROFILE : Bob, crime, Carol & Elvis (BEVERLEY BEYETTE, The Age, AUS)
-EXCERPT: Excerpt from L. A. Requiem by Robert Crais
-Elvis Cole Created by Robert Crais (Thrilling Detective)
-REVIEW: of LA Requiem (Oline Cogdill, The Mystery Corner, Orlando Sun-Sentinel)
-REVIEW: of LA Requiem (SA Stolnak, Seattle Times)
-REVIEW: Tangled Web UK Review - LA Requiem by Robert Crais May 1999
-REVIEW: of LA Requiem Crime novelist reaches higher level (Terrence Brejla, Special to The Denver Post )
-REVIEW: of LA Requiem (Mike Shea, Austin Chronicle)
-REVIEW: Robert Crais's 'L.A. Requiem' (Dave Kvidahl, Indiana Statesman)
-REVIEW : LA Requiem (Wes Lukowsky, ALA Booklist)
-REVIEW : of L. A. Requiem (Eddie Duggan , Crime Time Online)
-REVIEW : of L. A. Requiem (S.A. Stolnack, Seattle Times)
-REVIEW : of L. A. Requiem (Matt Springer, Pop-Culture-Corn)
-REVIEW : of L.A. Requiem by Robert Crais (Robert Ward, San Francisco Chronicle)
-REVIEW : of Demolition Angel by Robert Crais (Kevin Burton Smith, January Magazine)
-REVIEW: Tangled Web UK Review - Indigo Slam by Robert Crais Sep 98
-REVIEW: of Indigo Slam (Tom Corcoran, Book Page)
-Mostly Fiction: recommended books by Robert Crais
-Reviews from Ed's Internet Book Review
-REVIEW: of Robert Crais, Stalking the Angel (SF Site)
-Edgar Awards (awarded by the Mystery Writers of America)
-The Shamus Awards (Bestowed by the Private Eye Writers of America)