Robert Crais,
The Last Detective
(Orion, 2003)

I was actually quite nervous about starting this book. What if it didn't live up to the high standard that Robert Crais had set for himself with its predecessor in the Elvis & Joe series, L.A. Requiem? What if the author had gone off the boil? What if it was just an average tale?

At the beginning of The Last Detective, Elvis Cole, private investigator, is looking after Ben, his girlfriend Lucy's son. There has been some tension in the "family" and Elvis is beginning to make some headway in getting closer to his young charge when the boy goes missing, just as his mother is due home from a business trip. A frantic search of the surrounding area yields no clues, and when Elvis gets a phone call that tells him the boy's been kidnapped because of something in his past, the quest begins.

That's the bare bones of the story -- it's a simple enough plot and, although I'm usually the last to know, it wasn't too hard to work out who was responsible for the kidnapping. That didn't matter though because it's not important whodunnit. That's not what the book is all about: it's about what happens when a relationship is placed under an impossible strain; the unshakeable loyalty one man can feel for another, ranger to ranger or P.I. to sidekick; and it's about Elvis's need to reassess his childhood. Throughout the series Elvis has found himself repairing broken families and tending to other people's damaged childhoods. It's much harder when it comes to making sense of his own.

This is the darkest book of the series so far; there is no room at all for Elvis to be Mr. Playful, he's Mr. Desperate from start to finish. And, although I don't think that it shines in the same way that L.A. Requiem does, I'm not sure that matters all that much because it's still a really good read. As always with Crais, I found myself gripped by the characterisation. The relationships in these books are so wonderfully drawn that you can't help but ache for the protagonists sometimes. You are pulled into their problems, a helpless observer of the way they are torn over the things they want for each other but can't provide, and I find that compelling.

There is a curious continuity error relating to Ben's father, big enough for fans of the series to notice, but not detrimental to the story. And there were things that were glossed over when I was hoping for more. I still don't know how Elvis and Joe met, for example, and what originally forged the partnership, and I very much want to. I don't know whether the wonderful Carol Starkey (borrowed from Demolition Angel, a stand-alone novel by the same author) is going to turn into the best thing that ever happened to our hero or if she's somehow going to self-destruct well before he has the chance to find out. I also want to know if there's any hope at all for Elvis and Lucy because I still want to believe that there could be even in the face of all the evidence.

So, the series remains very much alive for me, and I'm as I curious as I ever was to find out how our heroes and their clients will be affected by the bricks that are dropped on them during the course of future cases. And as for being disappointed -- I read the book in single sitting.

- Rambles
written by Jean Lewis
published 27 September 2003

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