Sunday, March 13, 2005

THE LAST DETECTIVE -- Robert Crais

When Robert Crais started writing his series about Elvis Cole back in 1987, the first book, The Monkey's Raincoat, came out as a paperback original from Bantam. It was a big hit, an entertaining p.i. novel that obviously owed something to Robert B. Parker, among others, but that had a flair all its own. Before long Crais was being published in hardback and racking up enviable sales.

But I think Crais wanted more than enviable sales. I think he wanted bestselling novels, and in the pursuit of them he changed publishers a few times. Then he wrote a couple of standalone books, Demolition Angel and Hostage. Those last two titles must have sold very well indeed, and the movie version of Hostage opened this weekend, with Bruce Willis starring.

To tell the truth, I didn't much like either Demolition Angel or Hostage. They were very well done, but they seemed to me sort of soulless and lacking any individuality. In other words, I thought of them as by-the-numbers thrillers, and I thought they lacked the spark and originality of the early Elvis Cole novels.

The fact is, for me anyway, the last couple of Elvis Cole novels have also lacked that spark. I read The Forgotten Man this weekend, and while I think it's a perfectly fine book, it didn't do much for me. For one thing, in both this one and The Last Detective, Crais has tried to add "heft" and "seriousness" to the books, and in the process he's abandoned the first-person novel for a story told in first person part of the time and in third person the rest of the time. In doing that, he's gotten away from the things that made the series attractive to me in the first place.

But it's worked. I noticed that The Forgotten Man is right there on the bestseller list this week, sitting right in the middle. So I guess that's all to the good, at least for Crais's career. Since I've met him and like him, I wish him nothing but the best. Still, I'd trade his last four novels for another one like The Monkey's Raincoat. Luckily for Crais, hardly anybody else feels the same way.

1 comment:

  1. I agree about the progress of Crais's work. The early, first-person-only Elvis seemed more of a character, who encountered Crais's chosen themes naturally.

    With so many authors to read, the nuances that distinguish one character from another are what draw me to one author's work over another. I think these nuances come through best in first-person-only.

    In Crais's recent multi-POV, procedural approach, his protags seem more obvious vehicles for his chosen themes. I lose the illusion that they are spontaneous characters.

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