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Lullaby Town is the third book in the excellent Elvis Cole series of crime thrillers by Robert Crais. Before turning to novel writing, Robert Crais was a Hollywood scriptwriter and director whose work has included episodes of Cagney & Lacey and Hill Street Blues. He claims one of his major writing influences is Raymond Chandler and there is much about Elvis Cole that is reminiscent of Chandler's private detective, Philip Marlowe, especially when it comes to witty one liners.
I borrowed this book from the library but copies are available on Amazon from 1p.
Elvis Cole is good at finding people and Peter Alan Nelson wants him to find his wife and child. Nelson is a successful film director who ditched his wife and baby son on his way up the Hollywood career ladder. Unfortunately, when Elvis finds Nelson's ex-wife, he also finds himself in a lot of trouble involving the New York Mafia and after that things just seem to go from bad to worse...
If you've read my two previous reviews of books in this series, you'll know that I'm more than half in love with Elvis Cole. He is a wonderful creation and although he may owe a passing nod to Philip Marlowe as far as wisecracking and throwaway remarks go, he also possesses some unique and somewhat quirky characteristics that are definitely all his own. His style of dress is individualistic as, too, as is his interior decorating style - His office is a monument to bad taste; very Disneyesque with a Pinocchio clock and a couple of Jiminy Cricket statuettes. One gets the impression that Elvis is not too keen on growing up. His sense of humour might not be to everyone's taste either. Whilst contemplating whether to change his answerphone message, Elvis toys with the idea of using: "Elvis Cole, Detective Agency: There are no small cases, only small detectives - hire the biggest dick in the business!" On reflection, he decides to leave well alone.
Equally impressive is Joe Pike, Elvis's sidekick, ex-cop and also a veteran of the Vietnam War with the mental scars to prove it. However, some of the tactics of war learned in the jungles of south east Asia always seem to prove useful when on a case. Joe is mysterious and enigmatic, always wearing sunglasses, even at night! The interaction between these two friends is enjoyable and there is an ongoing battle between the two as Elvis attempts to make Joe crack a smile. He hasn't succeeded yet!
In this latest escapade, Elvis sets out to find Nelson's ex-wife and child and does so in double quick time. But that is not the end of this case by any means. Nelson's ex-wife, Karen and her son are living in a small Connecticut town on the East Coast and to begin with she vehemently denies she has any connection to Nelson. Elvis soon discovers that Karen has become embroiled with the local Mafia and he has to use all his charm, ingenuity and skill to extricate her.
It's becoming obvious as this series progresses that Elvis is a sucker for the young and the vulnerable and though he's full of wisecracks, once he's got his teeth into a case, he becomes deadly serious.
These books don't just focus on Elvis and Joe but give descriptions and back stories for the other characters too so that they are equally well rounded. The character of Karen in particular is well drawn, demonstrating how people can be sucked into situations not of their choosing from which they find it difficult to extricate themselves.
I suppose some younger readers may find these books rather dated because the early ones, at any rate, are set in the early to mid 1990s but as someone who well remembers that time, I don't have a problem with that at all. If I have one slight criticism it's that Peter Alan Nelson, the director, comes across as rather stereotypical as the whizz kid director and is slightly two dimensional because of that but I can't really think of anything else about these books or the series so far that is worthy of criticism.
I really enjoy Robert Crais's writing style, which in many ways reminds me of Arthur Hailey. His chapters are short and sharp, allowing him to tell the story from many different perspectives. His scriptwriting background is very much in evidence because his books read like a television show and don't suffer for it either. They are just such fun to read and although both Elvis and Joe have 'dark' pasts, both having been deeply affected by their time fighting in the Vietnam War, which explains their attitudes to life, Robert Crais doesn't dwell on this too much and balances the darker crime elements with lighter touches very well.
I'm reading these books in order of publication and at the end of this third book, I'm itching to get onto book number four. I've found myself becoming more and more attached to Elvis and Joe with each successive book. I feel that Robert Crais, too, is growing to love his characters who have now developed into fully rounded people. The next book in the series, Free Fall, is currently checked out from the library by someone else (grr!!) so I might have to wait a while before embarking on Elvis and Joe's next mission but I bet it will pull me further into the lives of these two unlikely but very appealing detectives.
Peter Alan Nelsen is a super-successful movie director who is used to getting what he wants. And what he wants now is to find the wife and infant child he dumped on the road to fame. It's the kind of case that Cole could handle in his sleep, except that when Cole actually finds Nelsen's ex-wife, everything takes on nightmarish proportions - a nightmare which involves Cole with a nasty New York mob family and a psycho killer who is the son of the godfather. And when the unpredictable Nelsen charges in, an explosive situation blows sky-high.