Saturday 28 April 2012

Robert Crais: Sunset Express Review

A woman bludgeoned to death, her body dumped on a rubbish tip. The weapon, a ball peen hammer, found outside the house she shared with husband Teddy. Husband's defence: she had been kidnapped. Husband's believability: zero.

However, Teddy has one advantage: he's worth about $150 million. That buys a lot of defence, beginning with superstar lawyer Jonathan Green and the funding of The Big Green Defense Machine - an army of lawyers, investigators and more to scrutinise every aspect of the case, to get Teddy the best justice money can buy.

Meanwhile, Elvis Cole is happily looking forward to girlfriend Lucy's first visit to Los Angeles. Then the BGDM sweeps into Elvis Cole's office - Jonathan schmoozes him (shame on you, Elvis, but Lucy is a lawyer and will be impressed) and hires him to investigate certain aspects of the case, beginning with Detective Angela Rossi. She was first to examine the body: then she led the investigation to the Martin household and she found the weapon. There's an old stain on her record and an outstanding complaint. Cast doubt on her and Teddy is likely to walk free.

Unfortunately for Teddy, Rossi is clean. She's ambitious in a male structure, she's keen and headstrong but she's also honest. As far as the complaint goes, the crook's own mother says it's garbage. Cole so reports, to Jonathan Green's expressed regret and thanks for a job well done.

Cole is also investigating a bunch of phone-ins, people after a large reward. From the lonely to the mad, they've all heard something, whether it be from their spaceship-driving controllers or via the ether. One report though. of men in a bar talking about a kidnap, bears further investigation. The informer is a semi-drunk, wife-beating creep -- (Crais does paint his lowlives well) -- but his information could be kosher. A quick bit of nifty detecting and Cole is led to an apartment with evidence of a planned kidnap of the murdered woman. Excellent news for the defence, as Green points out to a sea of reporters, taking time to point out how crap the LAPD is and how good Cole is.

Done and dusted? Of course not - doubts begin to creep into Cole's mind as he's blocked from contact with the BGDM, including normal follow-ups of his findings. A phone call comes from the unhappy wife of the person who reported the kidnap plan - giving Elvis a name that leads to a strange coincidence. Green hammers the LAPD but it transpires that the kidnappers died some days previously in a car accident and Green knew, though he continued to claim malpractice by the police. Green's most grievous offence though is to go after Detective Rossi - the complainant's mother is now backing up her imprisoned son and Rossi is started on the path to crucifixion by media and police brass. This, after Cole has assured her she was in the clear. Major mistake by somebody: both Cole and partner Joe Pike are now personally offended.

So begins a parallel investigation: Cole, Pike and a handful of Rossi's colleagues. Evidence emerges that Green is up to no good but the DA's office thinks it trivial and won't consider action. The good guys are stymied - until one honest attorney gives them a suggestion - a lawyer struck off for drug dealing - a lawyer who used to work for Jonathan Green.

We're into the endgame now: a comedy cameo as the drug dealer is conned and persuaded to lead them to Green's computers. Retainer agreements show that the fee for the defence went from half a million to everything Teddy possessed, just about the time Cole reported Rossi clean. Green is definitely bent and his head of security is riding around with muscle to close off possible problems, including the elderly mother with the changing mind. Cue chase, cue gunfight, cue unsatisfactory (to the good guys) outcome. Cue sting in the tail.

So, worth reading? Absolutely. Very well plotted, very well crafted. I avoided using the word "chivalry" above to describe how Cole was offended by the attacks on Rossi but that's an aspect of Crais's novels that's allowed to govern without overstatement or sentimentality and it works perfectly here. Grab this, you'll enjoy it.

Big Green Defense Machine? US spelling - that's why I abbreviated it wherever I could.


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