Sunday, January 2, 2011

L.A. Requiem by Robert Crais

Elvis Cole, the Hawaiian shirt wearing, wise-cracking, ex-Army Ranger turned P.I., is the frontman for the Elvis Cole Detective Agency. Joe Pike is his partner, an ex-Marine who never even cracks a smile, let alone cracks wise. L.A. Requiem, published in 1999, is Robert Crais' eighth novel and Cole and Pike's eighth outing together, but it's the first to offer deep and meaningful insight into Pike's enigmatic character (Has he ever smiled? Just what do his eyes look like under those always present sunglasses?).

Their cases are always intense, but this time it's personal. Karen Garcia, an ex-girlfriend of Pike's, with whose father he's still very close, has disappeared. The police won't even think about an investigation until she's been missing for more than the single day it's been, and at the request of the father the guys begin searching for Karen. Mere hours into their involvement, though, the young woman is found murdered; her father, a former gangbanger turned businessman and behind-the-scenes political mover, pulls strings to get the two private investigators allowed on the official police investigation.

They soon discover that something's not quite right. The police seem to be lacking a certain urgency, and it's not long before Cole and Pike figure out that her murder is the fifth in a series of murders with similar signatures...but no apparent connection or similarity among the victims. And, not only is there an apparent serial killer working the City of Angels, but the officer in charge of the task force is one who bears a deep, abiding, vengeful grudge against Pike, who was a police officer for several years after leaving the Marines. 

Whew. 

In addition to Elvis Cole's usual snappy first person narrative there are flashbacks, told in the more distancing third person, to Pike's past. We see Pike's turbulent childhood, complete with a drunken and abusive father and a beaten down, ineffectual mother; his entrance into an elite recon unit of the Marines and his time in Vietnam; and pictures of his time with the LAPD, which was short and not at all sweet.

The novel's action is relentless and often painful. Elvis Cole's relationship with lawyer Lucy Chenier, which is blossoming as it heads into a new phase, is severely tested, perhaps never to recover. More than one person central to the story is seriously injured; some are killed. Some trusts are stretched nearly to the breaking point. But Elvis Cole has the last word, and he remains cautiously optimistic:


When I first came here, I fell in love with this place. During the day, Los Angeles is a great playful puppy of a town, anxious to please and quick with a smile. At night, it becomes a treasure chest filled with magic and dreams. All  you have to do is chase your dreams. All you need is the magic. All you have to do is survive, but it's that way anywhere.




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