Friday 9 September 2011

Robert Crais

Robert Crais is one of a group of US authors who've had a good grounding in the greats of detective fiction and forged a more literary path while preserving much of the good of the genre. He cites Chandler as a major influence and there are indeed echoes of the master, albeit updated to a flashier West Coast.

Crais spent years as a television scriptwriter, working mainly on shows like Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, and Miami Vice. That experience is hugely evident in his novels - the crime, the goodies, the baddies. More than that, it's obvious in the style; fast and episodic with a climactic finish. Don't expect flights of lyricism (though Crais does produce moments) but do expect well crafted books with a fine sense of pacing.

One other facet, perhaps from the Cagney and Lacey days, Robert Crais writes some very good female characters. He allows them room and space in his stories and the books are often much the better for it. They may not outshine the male heroes but they're more than eye candy and cleavage.

So, the guts of the novels. Crais's major output is what is usually called "the Elvis Cole stories". They should be called "the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike stories" but that's a bit clumsy. Cole and Pike own a detective agency. Cole is the public face, the man at ease in social situations. Pike is the silent warrior. Cole sees shades of grey and agonises over consequences, Pike has an iron moral code and obeys it without fear or questioning.

As the set of novels progresses we learn more about each of the two protagonists: hints from early works are fleshed out gradually - finally we get books which concentrate on each in turn and flesh out the past, with all its control over the present. There's madness in one back story and physical abuse in the other; both are handled extremely well in some of Crais's best writing.

There are, at the time of writing, four other standalone novels (though characters do cross over sometimes). They occupy related territories but work well of themselves.

Would you like them? Would they shock you? As far as sex and violence go, the former is alluded to rather than pasted across the pages and the latter is, though sometimes extreme, justified and well handled. Add a marked lack of swearing (the TV influence again) and while my mother might not read these, I, my sister and the vicar certainly would.

Robert Crais Books Reviewed

The Monkey's Raincoat
Stalking The Angel
Lullaby Town
Free Fall
Voodoo River
Sunset Express

The author's own site:

Crais mentions as favourite amongst his television writings the mini series Cross Of Fire. This is an historical account of a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan - words that might sound strange these days but think of it as a tale of crime and violence in the name of racism and the lust for political power. The series has been edited to a four hour DVD - I can highly recommend this:


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