The Wanted by Robert Crais

Let’s just get this out of the way: I have been a diehard fan of Robert Crais/Elvis Cole/Joe Pike for THIRTY YEARS. Seriously, when The Monkey’s Raincoat was published in 1987, I was working in a public library, grabbed it as soon as it came in, and was HOOKED. Since then, this has been one of the most reliable series in the mystery genre – consistent as in “OMG, <blank> has a new book coming out! YAY!” So I was happy to receive a copy of The Wanted from G.P.Putnam’s Sons and NetGalley in return for my honest review.

In this latest installment, a single mother named Devon Cole comes to Elvis Cole because she is concerned about her teenage son, who suddenly has cash, which makes her suspect he might be dealing drugs. Devon’s mom reveals that her son Tyson has serious anxiety issues and has been failed to succeed at several schools, finally landing in an alternative school. His mom first notices he is wearing new shirts from Barney’s, an extremely expensive store. Tyson tells her that one of his friend’s parents runs a studio’s wardrobe department and got them a great deal.

After the shirts, Tyson acquires an Xbox and a new computer with three monitors. Elvis discovers hidden cash totaling tens of thousands of dollars, and a Rolex watch worth upwards of $20,000. So clearly he is up to SOMETHING. The truth is that he and two friends have been burglarizing the houses of rich folks, getting lots of cash and new clothes in return. As it turns out, the Rolex provides a clue for Elvis, as it is registered to a specific person, and with that clue, Elvis is off and running. But the happen to steal the wrong thing from the wrong house, and one of them is murdered.

The victim, who REALLY wants his property back, hires two killers named Harvey and Stems, who are frantically looking for Devon and his girlfriend. Elvis, determined to find Devon and the girl before the bad guys do, brings in Joe Pile and Jon Stone.

In addition to just absolutely loving Elvis, I love Robert Crais’s writing, including structure, setting, character and plotting. The structure is terrific, going between Elvis Cole and two hired killers, Harvey and Stems. Each time the story shifts to another character’s point of view, we get another clue. The various areas of Los Angeles are familiar, and well described as Elvis searches for the missing teens at places including “…celebutante clubs with a squad of paparazzi camped at the door…”He not only captures the vibe of Southern California, he is great at describing people: one potential witness is “a flea market regular, this older woman with sun-scorched skin and liver spots…” and Devon “…carried herself with so much tension she might have been wrapped with duct tape.” Elvis is his usual intuitive self: “…something about her bothered me, but I wasn’t sure what.”

Then there is the scene where Harvey and Stems are passing time in the car, discussing the movie Psycho while staking out a house, watching for Elvis: one guy’s take is “The message was women are powerless. Here’s this lunatic, he’s stabbing her, what did she do, the chick in the movie? Just stood there. So what’s being modeled? Whatever some guy does to a woman, they’re supposed to take it. That’s the message.”

The plot is complex, as the story races forward at a pace that kept me up til nearly dawn when I got to the final reveal that felt just right. Robert Crais is one of the very best mystery writers out there, and although there are recurring people and places in this series, this story can be read as a standalone. I had huge expectations for The Wanted, and it met (or exceeded) them all. Five stars!

 

Snap Judgment by Marcia Clark

Cover Clark Snap Judgment

Last fall, I reviewed Moral Defense, by Marcia Clark (yes, THAT Marcia Clark, of OJ Simpson trial fame), which was the second in the series featuring criminal defense attorney Samantha Brinkman, based in Marcia’s turf, Los Angeles. Sam first showed up in Blood Defense, the first title in this series, in which she defended a decorated homicide detective accused in a double murder. That defendant is a recurring character in the series, as are Sam’s two associates (one of these is a genius ex-con, and the other is Sam’s closest friend since childhood).

In Moral Defense, I realized Sam is a REALLY great character, with opinions that I suspect reflect how Marcia may have felt during her legal career: “I’d been trashed on cable for dressing like a bargain-basement rag doll. Someday, women won’t have to put up with it. Someday, people are going to care more about what we say and do than what we look like. But that day didn’t seem to be coming any time soon…”

So we meet Sam again in Snap Judgment, #3 in this series. In this one, the seemingly perfect daughter of prominent civil attorney Graham Hutchins is found with her throat slashed. Her spurned ex-boyfriend seems the likely suspect, but he is found dead soon after in an apparent suicide. The person of interest in the boyfriend’s death is Hutchins, who hires Sam & Associates.

We learn that the boyfriend was uber-controlling and a creep who posted revenge porn online. The investigation quickly focuses on the daughter’s friends and classmates as well as perhaps some of her off-campus neighbors at USC (or, as many of us refer to it, “University of Spoiled Children.”): “For all that USC is a richy-rich kid school, the campus is in a shitty ‘hood where anything can happen.

Graham is a tough client. As a specialist in civil litigation, his perspective differs from Sam’s since “…in criminal court, the worst people are on their best behavior, and in civil court, the best people are on their worst behavior.” The investigation into the parallel mysteries takes the reader around Southern CA, areas Marcia Clark knows well. Good location detail, lots of interesting characters (and we feel like we are getting to know Dale, Greg and Michy VERY well), and a super twisty plot with great suspense make this a really good book.

In my prior review, I confessed my fascination with Marcia Clark, going back to the early 90s when she was a media star as well as a legal star as she battled to convict OJ . In her other series of novels there is also a female protagonist, Rachel Knight, but Rachel is on the other side, prosecuting cases (something Marcia knows inside and out). Placing Sam in the role of criminal defense attorney has allowed Ms. Clark to explore the “anything goes as long as you don’t get caught” side of the courtroom battles.

I am totally hooked on the Samantha Brinkman series, and this one reinforced my opinion that Sam is a much more interesting character than Rachel Knight, just IMHO. Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and Net Galley for an advance copy of this title in exchange for my honest review. Five stars! Can’t wait for the next one!

 

Golden Prey by John Sandford

Cover Sandford Golden Prey

I’m a sucker for pretty much any Sandford books, whether it features Lucas Davenport or Virgil Flowers or (occasionally) both. The plotting is sharp, the characters are well developed (and more so with each title, as we come to know more about their lives with each new case). So, I was happy to receive an advance copy of the latest Lucas Davenport “Prey” book, Golden Prey, from Penguin Group/Putnam and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

In this latest entry in the series, Lucas has moved out of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and is now working for the U.S. Marshals Service, able to pick his own cases and follow them wherever they lead (which doesn’t endear him to the nominal head of Marshals’ office in Minnesota).

The crime spree opens with the robbery of a Honduran drug cartel’s money counting house in Biloxi, MS. During the crime, five people are killed, including a six-year-old girl – and millions of dollars in cash is taken. Lucas heads up a team including what I consider potentially recurring memorable characters to search for the “Dixie Hicks” who took out the counting house. At the same time as his team’s search is going on, The cartel sends their own people — including a crazy bitch torturer known as the “Queen of Home Improvement tools” and a couple of lesbians, all of whom are on the hunt.

Even though we pretty much know going in that Lucas will solve the case and there will be lots of action, some witty dialogue, and more information about what makes Lucas tick, it is a fun ride.

I always love the scenes where Lucas has to fly, and is sure every takeoff and/or landing will result in a fiery crash. I also love the way he dives into the local cultural quirks – this time, in the South. “He went to sleep thinking about gRita and especially okra. Who in God’s name was the first guy to stick an okra in his mouth? Must have been a brave man, or starving to death…”

Then there are the vivid descriptions, as when he goes to interview a good old boy who lives with his cockatoo in a small house: “The place smelled heavily of Campbell’s Chunky Hearty Bean with Ham soup, a touch of the consequent flatulence, with a subtle overtone of newspaper-and-bird-shit.”

Like I said, it’s a fun ride. Sandford’s books are reliable entertainment, and this one is no exception. It’s more than four stars for sure, but not quite five stars, as the complex chase required a few too many turns that bordered on deus ex machina. I’ve been told I am a “way too easy”  grader, so it’s gotta be four stars!