I recently finished reading L.A. Requiem by Robert Crais, the eighth book in his Elvis Cole crime novel series. The title caught my eye as I browsed a local bookstore looking for something to read on my summer vacation. Based on the jacket copy and critical praise found on the first few pages, it sounded like a good read, particularly since I always enjoy stories set in LA. Little did I know I had stumbled upon an extraordinary crime novel and a book that many consider to be one of Robert Crais’s finest works.
This fast paced thriller drew me in right from the start and was hard to put down. The writing is crisp, the characters compelling and the interpersonal relationships far more complex than I had expected.
When private investigator Joe Pike’s former girlfriend, Karen Garcia, goes missing, he reaches out to his partner, Elvis Cole, for help. The story quickly shifts into high gear once her body is discovered and from then on the plot twists and turns at a fevered pace.
Karen’s father, a powerful and well connected local businessman, wants Pike and Cole to tag along with the LAPD officers investigating the murder to make sure they do their job right. Their involvement in the case infuriates many in the department who still believe Pike, an ex-cop, was responsible for the death of his former partner many years earlier.
When the man who found Garcia’s body is murdered and a witness to that crime places Pike at the victim’s home, the police eagerly go after him. Now Cole must try to exonerate his friend and partner and help solve the Garcia murder mystery.
As the intricate puzzle plot unfolds, Crais deftly explores themes of love and sacrifice, justice, honor, friendship, betrayal and the underlying causes of violence. He also does a masterly job using the city’s natural and built environments as backdrops to the story and as metaphors for his characters’ actions and frame of mind.
As someone who is tired of the clichéd LA bashing that is common in fiction, film and other media and that is so often based on stereotypes, ignorance or both, I found Crais’s treatment of the city to be refreshingly accurate and nuanced. He obviously knows the city well and takes full advantage of all the richness that this metropolis affords a writer. Take for example this passage:
“We followed Lake Hollywood Drive past upscale houses that were built in the thirties and forties, then remodeled heavily in the seventies and eighties into everything from homey ranch-styles to contemporary aeries to postmodern nightmares. Like most older Los Angeles neighborhoods (until the land boom went bust), the homes held the energy of change, as if what was here today might evolve into something else tomorrow. Often, that something else was worse, but just as often it was better. There is great audacity in the willingness to change, more than a little optimism, and a serious dose of courage. It was the courage that I admired most, even though the results often made me cringe. After all, the people who come to Los Angeles are looking for change. Everyone else just stays home.”
If you live in the LA region, you’ll instantly recognize many of the neighborhoods Crais writes about. If you call somewhere else home, this book will give you a taste of the wide variety of landscapes and communities that make up the LA basin, from Santa Monica to downtown, Laurel Canyon to Silver Lake, Hollywood to Hancock Park and many other places in between. The story even ventures out to Palm Springs, where Crais captures both the allure and isolation of desert life.
Although this is the eighth book in the Elvis Cole detective series, don’t let that stop you from reading it if you’ve never read any of the earlier works. In fact, according to Crais’s own web site, this is the Elvis Cole novel he recommends people read first. While I didn’t know that going in, I’m glad I started with this book and now look forward to reading the others.
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