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Sometimes you come across a novel or as in this case, even a series of novels, which totally capture your imagination and you're compelled to keep on reading until it's finished. This is how I am with the Elvis Cole novels by Robert Crais and I've been steadily working my way through the series for the last couple of months.
Robert Crais began his writing career in Hollywood as a script writer and this is very obvious when reading his books because they paint a clear picture of the events unfolding. In fact, I'm amazed these books haven't been made into a television series, they're that good, although I know I'd probably not be satisfied with whoever they cast as Elvis, a man with whom I'm definitely a little bit in love.
The series began in quite a light-hearted vein with The Monkey's Raincoat. I'm not sure if it's correct to refer to a crime novel featuring murder as being exactly light-hearted but the first few books seemed that way. However, as the series has progressed, the themes have become darker, especially as the reader has been given glimpses into Elvis's and Joe Pike's, his partner, psyches. They both have "issues" from their time in Vietnam.
In Sunset Express, which is the sixth book in the series, quite a bit has happened already in the lives of our two intrepid private eyes and I'll try not to give any spoilers about what has gone before.
A wealthy businessman has been accused of murdering his wife and his hot-shot lawyer hires Elvis to find proof that the detective involved in the investigation has tinkered with the evidence. The detective, Angela Rossi, has been accused previously of planting evidence but as Elvis's own investigation progresses, he begins to suspect that it's the lawyers involved in the case who are responsible rather than Rossi.
After the prologue which describes a previous case involving Angela Rossi, the book proper begins, again in a fairly light vein. Elvis is mooching in his office when it's invaded by a TV film crew who proceed to cause problems for Elvis. The crew are following the high profile lawyer, Jonathan Green, making a fly-on-the-wall documentary about his work. Green makes a point of only taking cases, he claims, where the people he defends are not guilty and it's clear from the off that he is very media-savvy. Elvis agrees to take on the task of investigating Angela Rossi, he gets his cheque and the media circus leave him to get on with it.
Elvis is just a joy. He suffers somewhat from arrested development and his office reflects his inner child, with a Mickey Mouse phone and a Pinocchio wall clock which marks off the seconds with moving eyes! His style of clothing is also very much the jeans and T-shirt variety, which he occasionally swaps for a Hawaiian shirt for special occasions. Snappy dresser! His clothes may not be smart but Elvis certainly is and behind his boyish charm is an analytical brain which he uses to great effect.
His sidekick, Joe Pike, is like night to Elvis's day. I've already confessed to being a little in love with Elvis but the enigmatic Joe comes a very close second. He's even more damaged by events in Vietnam than Elvis. Joe was once in the LAPD but his methods left much to be desired, although he still has some contacts on the force which certainly come in useful in this latest investigation. Joe wears dark glasses, even at night, and for the most part is monosyllabic. His answerphone message merely said "Speak" but, as Elvis surmises, "I guess he felt it was long winded. Now there was just the beep." When Elvis questioned how people were supposed to know who they'd reached or what to do, Joe simply replied "Intelligence test". It's pretty obvious that Joe is uber-cool.
On top of his current investigation, Elvis's private life raises a couple of problems, too. His long-distance girlfriend who he met in a previous book in the series, comes for a visit along with her young son and Elvis finds himself thinking about making their relationship more permanent and begins to try to persuade her to move to LA.
Meanwhile, his investigation of Angela Rossi is leading him to the conclusion that he is being manipulated by Green and his legal team and Elvis is beginning to realise that Angela may well have been set up. If this book could be said to have a theme, it would be about the law and the morality of the American legal system.
Apart from the prologue, the story is told in the first person, giving Elvis's unique take on the investigation which means that as he reaches his conclusions, so does the reader. We see all the other major players through Elvis's eyes and he's very perspicacious so it isn't long before we smell a rat, known here as Jonathan Green, but the trail to find the guilty is a very convoluted one which Elvis doggedly follows.
And as for his ongoing romance, he's getting there.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable read which is full of action, tension, high drama and just a smidgen of romance. It reads like a Hollywood produced TV series such as Magnum or the Rockford Files but is so much better. Robert Crais's writing style is slick and stylish and he draws a picture of Los Angeles which gets right down to the seamier side of life there. The story moves along at a cracking pace and just like all the others in the series, this book is unputdownable. The secondary characters are all fully rounded and indeed one or two central characters from previous books make what amount to guest appearances in this latest outing.
For anybody who has yet to make the acquaintance of Elvis Cole, I urge you to get down to your nearest library and introduce yourself to him. He's an absolute delight. 'Sunset Express' is the sixth book of the series so you'll need to start with the first, 'The Monkey's Raincoat', and work your way through. It's a journey you'll thoroughly enjoy.
On his own turf in LA, PI Elvis Cole is embroiled in a controversial, high-profile murder case. A wealthy restaurateur is accused of murdering his wife, and his hot-shot defence lawyer hires Cole to find proof that the detective on the case, Angela Rossi, fooled around with the evidence. Yet as Elvis investigates Rossi for the defence team, he begins to be more suspicious of the media-loving lawyers than the cops. And as the investigation continues, Cole is drawn deeper and deeper into the intrigue and dangers surrounding the case of the missing woman.