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The Last Detective, Robert Crais, Doubleday, $24.95.

The Last Detective by Robert Crais

There will be some disappointments associated with this wonderful book, simply because it's not L.A. Requiem. Judged on its own, its a very good book that's impossible to put down, and after such a long absence, it's great to have Elvis Cole and Joe Pike back in business. Crais proves once again that he's one of the best storytellers in the business as he kicks this book off with the kidnapping of his girlfriend Lucy's 10 year old son, Ben. As Lucy has already been having problems with Elvis' "lifestyle" - it's already put her and Ben in danger - this sends her over the edge.

I've had a discussion with another reader where we tried to decide if Crais's use of this 10 year old boy as a kidnap victim who sees some very graphic violence is too manipulative. We both agreed that perhaps Crais himself does NOT have children - but that the character of Ben Chernier is a strong, believable one, and the lens through which he views his kidnapping is believable as well.

Tied in throughout are Elvis's memories of Vietnam where he was a Ranger - sent in with a small team to find pockets of Viet Cong - this has left Elvis with scars and memories he can't think about. They are brought up by the kidnapping, as it seems to be aimed at revenge toward Elvis because of things that happened in Vietnam. Elvis refuses to believe that's true, but this puts him on outsider status with the police force. His only ally is the cranky female former bomb squad cop, Starkey, who many of you may remember from Demolition Angel. Crais also has Elvis encounter an unnamed Harry Bosch (to the delight of Michael Connelly fans, I'm sure) - they seem to be neighbors. Some neighborhood.

What sets Crais up in the heavens is his prose style - wonderful - his ability to create fully fleshed out characters - and in this novel, a way of storytelling that lets him slip from viewpoint to viewpoint - first we're in Elvis's head, then Joe's, then Ben's, etc. - that makes the tension almost unbearable. The final scene is so well done that it's like reading an action movie - only better. An action movie doesn't get inside the character's heads. This is a wonderful book - if you can put it down while you're reading it you're a better person than I.

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