'The First Rule': Robert Crais' tale of subterranean motives in a multiple murder
Robert Crais' new thriller, "The First Rule," is an elegantly told, unremittingly violent tale of a multiple murder that may be more than the robbery/home invasion it appears to be. Crais appears Wednesday at Seattle Mystery Bookshop and Barnes & Noble/University Village, both in Seattle.
Special to The Seattle Times
Robert CraisThe author of "The First Rule" will appear at two Seattle-area locations: at noon Wednesday at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, 117 Cherry St., Seattle (206-587-5737; www.seattlemystery.com), and at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Barnes & Noble, University Village, 2675 N.E. University Village St., Seattle (206-517-4107 or http://store-locator.barnesandnoble.com/store/2573).
Is it possible for a crime novel to be both ultra-violent and elegant? If so, then Robert Crais' "The First Rule" (Putnam's, 320 pp., $26.95) is a prime example. The mayhem is graphic and unflinching, but the prose and storyline are as sleek and efficient as a beautifully crafted piece of machinery.
Crais, a native of Louisiana who now lives in Southern California, was a successful writer early in his career for such highly praised TV shows as "Hill Street Blues." In the process, he learned a thing or two about telling a good story.
Since turning his hand to novels, Crais has written several standalone books (including "Hostage" and "Demolition Angel"). He is best known, however, for a long-running series starring a wisecracking Los Angeles private eye, Elvis Cole, and his scary partner, Joe Pike. Among them are "The Monkey's Raincoat," "Sunset Express" and "L.A. Requiem."
Crais' early books were a little too much like Robert B. Parker's tales starring another wisecracking detective (Spenser) and his scary sidekick (Hawk). Fortunately, Elvis Cole has long since outgrown that resemblance and acquired his own distinct voice (plus a dandy collection of Hawaiian shirts).
However, the detective plays only a supporting role in "The First Rule." It's the enigmatic Pike who is in the forefront here.
Pike is an ex-mercenary and cop. He's also a force of nature with a fierce sense of loyalty and justice — which does not necessarily mean sticking to the rules. He doesn't talk much, but when he does say something he says it only once — and you would do well to listen carefully.
In the book's opening scene, a member of Pike's former team of elite mercenaries is murdered, along with his colleague's wife and kids and a nanny. At first, it looks like a home-invasion robbery gone wrong.
The incident is just the latest in a string of deadly robberies that have targeted drug dealers and other criminals. As a result, the cops suspect Pike's friend was also involved in something dirty — perhaps arms dealing.
Pike knows that his friend wasn't dirty. He also knows what he has to do: Go after the killers with everything at his disposal, which in time includes the help of Cole and another former soldier of fortune.
The trio quickly focuses on a crew of low-life robbers who are the likely suspects in the home-invasion spree. But they also find someone else: a Serbian thug who has accompanied the criminals on this particular outing for reasons that are not immediately revealed.
Pike dives into the case with implacable force, and what transpires is a baffling array of lies, double-crosses and ruthless standoffs. The further he and his cohorts get into the situation, the more they realize that it's anything but a simple robbery gone wrong. In this regard, "The First Rule" stays faithful to a rule of its own, one that holds true for crime fiction in general: things are never, ever what they seem.
Joe Pike is a compelling character, and we learn quite a bit here about his makeup — including, late in the game, a hint of sentimentality on the part of this otherwise stone-cold figure. "The First Rule" has unexpected twists and the body count is high — and it remains, to the end, as sleek and efficient as a beautifully crafted piece of storytelling should be.
Seattle writer Adam Woog's column on crime fiction appears on the second Sunday of the month in The Seattle Times.
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