Book Report: The Last Detective by Robert Crais (2003)

I would have better enjoyed this book, like the others later in the Elvis Cole series, had I not read the first ones in the series. That is, if I had not immediately read the books and thought I’d find a series in the tradition of Chandler/MacDonald/Parker. Instead, the books have petered into a rather mainstreamish detective series with writing ticks designed not so much to be true to the character, but to ratchet up the suspense with devices.

The devices, again: Multiple points of view in a book that features a first person narrator. That way, you see, we get into the heads of the character. The same stop-and-restart changing of the timeline that Crais used in Hostage. The personal-as-plot-filler with the relationship with Lucy Chenier and their continuing breakdown. Geez, some Spenser fans have wanted Susan dead for 20 years, but she’s a foil for introversion with Spenser. Chenier? Nothing but a foil for Cole’s fear of losing her, which is how he’s spent the last couple of books.

At least none of the characters, if memory serves, says “There you go.” Instead, Cole says Panic kills, which is what the Rangers taught him and what the LA SWAT taught Talley in Hostage. Crais blends these sayings and verbal tics across multiple characters, which I think is sloppy. I don’t like when Parker does it, either.

The plot: Lucy’s son Ben is kidnapped while Cole’s watching him by people who claim to want revenge for something he did in the War in Viet shnucking Nam, man. Point of order, Mr. Chairman. The entire duration of the Elvis Cole novel cycle seems to be a couple of years from The Monkey’s Raincoat to the latest novel, but Crais has written the books over the course of almost twenty years now. Cole’s not aging, though. Perhaps Crais should have just done the McBain thing and had Cole as a veteran of the war which seems to occur every decade or so (or every two years in George W. Bush’s term), because although a young and vital man would have been a veteran of Vietnam, by 2005 those fellows are getting into their fifties and are running unsuccessfully for President.

But by page 74, I had figured out what was going on–mainly because of the multiple points of view. Although the writing style’s quick and enjoyable to read, the macro writing things–the devices enumerated numerous times on this blog and in this very book report–keep me from giving an unreserved endorsement of the series. I’ve got one until I’m caught up with Crais, and after I am done with it, I probably won’t seek out others–although I might just be stuck reading them if my beautiful wife keeps giving them to me and putting them on my to-read shelves.

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