I first encountered Robert Crais’s work fifteen years ago with his second novel “Stalking the Angel”. Its protagonist Elvis Cole was an awesome character. He was everything I loved about the Private Detective genre: he was funny, unshakeable and loyal to his own moral code. And Cole’s partner, Joe Pike was an equally fascinating character: a tough and enigmatic bad-ass.
After “Stalking the Angel” I devoured the rest of Robert Crais’s work and each one of them has been entertaining and highly compelling reads. Part of the reason they are is because he does something with his characters. Each story matters, and leaves the characters in different places.
1999′s “L.A. Requiem” was the best book in the Cole-Pike series until 2007′s “The Watchman”. In “Requiem” Crais began to explore Pike’s mysterious past and in “Watchman” he gave readers the first novel where Pike was the protagonist. Both of these books illuminated much of Pike’s background and that didn’t diminish the character at all it only made him more fascinating.
After shifting focus back to Elvis Cole in 2008′s “Chasing Darkness” Crais turns the spotlight back on Pike in his newest novel “The First Rule,” which is both a detective story and a revenge novel. In the opening chapter, a home invasion robbery crew bursts into the home of one Pike’s associates from his mercenary days and executes him and his entire family. This causes Pike to go looking for revenge and when he does so he brings Elvis along with him because he uncovers a mystery involving The Serbian Mob, stolen assault rifles, and a 10 month old baby.
The plot of the story is full of lots of action and kick-ass cool moments for Pike, but where it really shines is in the quieter moments with Pike. It’s here where you realize why Pike is so interesting. He may be incredibly dangerous but he’s lost something because of it. He’s a damaged and lonely man trying to reconnect with humanity. That makes him a character who’s both viscerally cool and easy to root for. The scenes where Pike connects with a 10 month old boy named Petar were especially interesting and poignant.
So even after 15 years Robert Crais has found a way to keep his two premier characters fresh and fascinating. “The First Rule” is a highly enjoyable read that I recommend to fans of Thriller and P.I. fiction