No empty Promise
Thriller: The Promise, Robert Crais, Orion, hdbk, 402 pages, €25
Robert Crais is one of America's bestselling thriller writers, thanks, in no small part, to the almost universal popularity of the protagonist in most of his novels, former army man turned private investigator, the unorthodox and decidedly eccentric Elvis Cole. Cole's investigations and adventures sell millions of copies each year in more than 60 countries around the world, as well as topping the bestsellers lists on both the east and west coasts in America.
Originally from Louisiana, where he grew up on the banks of the Mississippi as the adopted only child of a blue-collar family, Crais (the surname is pronounced like 'chase') headed for Hollywood at the age of 23 and almost immediately found work writing scripts and developing storylines for some of the hit TV shows of the late 70s and early 80s: award-winning series like Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacy and Miami Vice.
He was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Hill Street Blues, but of all his TV work, he remains proudest of a four-hour series for NBC called Cross of Fire charting the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.
Crais had been trying his hand at writing crime fiction since, at the age of 15, he'd picked up a Raymond Chandler thriller and became hooked. He went on to gobble up works by Hammett, Hemingway, Robert B Parker and Steinbeck. He had had no success until, after the death of his father in 1985, he penned a semi-autobiographical book called The Monkey's Raincoat, which introduced the world to the self-styled "world's greatest detective", Elvis Cole, named after the King. Cole was decidedly kooky - he had a Mickey Mouse phone in his office, a Pinocchio clock on the wall, drank out of a Spider-Man coffee mug and drove a canary yellow muscle car, a '66 Corvette. Oh, and he quoted Jiminy Cricket all the time.
Cole and his lethal, monosyllabic former Marine sidekick, Joe Pike, were an instant hit. The book was published in 1987 and that year won the Anthony and Macavity Awards and was nominated for the Edgar Award, crime writing's Oscars. The Monkey's Raincoat has since been included in the American Mystery Writer's prestigious 100 Favourite Mysteries of the Century.
From the beginning, Elvis Cole was created to display loyalty, commitment and to fight against injustice at every turn, and these sterling qualities are very much to the fore in the latest Cole and Pike outing, The Promise. Cole is hired to find a woman who seems to have vanished with someone she met online. So far, so mundane, but when Elvis and Joe discover that the woman worked for a defence contractor and was being blackmailed to supply deadly explosives to persons unknown, the stakes are upped considerably.
Meanwhile, another of Cole's regular buddies in the books, LAPD dog-handler Scott James and his dog Maggie, are nearly blown to smithereens as they search a deserted building, and both he and Joe Pike are assaulted by a mysterious man.
But a promise is a promise, so no matter what the dangers are, all are determined to bring the case to a close. Barring the way to a solution are a small army of inner-city drug traffickers and a shadowy group of Afghan war veterans with ties to a terrorist cell.
If Cole and Pike are to find their missing woman, they must buck seemingly insuperable odds. But once again, through the sheer plausibility of his plotting and the deft characterisation of even the most minor characters, Crais delivers as satisfying an addition to the Cole/Pike canon as could be desired.