Book Review- “Taken”
On a fateful Saturday afternoon in 1996 I was wandering the mystery section of the Wayne Public Library when a book jumped out at me. It was called “Stalking the Angel” and it was written by an author who I had never heard of named Robert Crais. There was something about the book that called to me though. Then I read the description and knew I had to read the book. I’m so glad I did too because it was my introduction to two of crime fiction’s greatest characters Private Detective Elvis Cole and his partner the enigmatic and deadly Joe Pike. Now almost twenty years later Crais is still penning the adventures of Cole and Pike and they are still very, very good. In fact Crais’ latest novel “Taken,” which I just finished reading, might be the best in the series, and is certainly one of the best things Crais has ever written.
When Crais began writing the Elvis Cole series Elvis was the main character and Pike was more of a supporting player. As the series progressed you got to know more about Pike and the last several novels have even featured him as the lead character. For “Taken” Crais gives readers the best of both worlds and splits the spotlight between his two creations. So you see things from Elvis’ first person narration and Pike’s third person narration.
It works very well too because plot wise “Taken” is both a detective story and an action thriller. The two stories don’t unfold linearly, but that’s okay it engages you and forces the reader to put things together. In the detective story that happens first chronologically Elvis is hired by a worried mother to find her missing daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend. It turns out she’s been abducted by some truly evil criminals who kidnap illegal immigrants as they try to enter the country. The criminals, dubbed bajadores, then try to squeeze as much money as they can out of the immigrants’ families and when they can’t squeeze anymore they murder them.
So Cole and Pike are up against some truly disgusting people, which make thinks more worrisome for the reader in the thriller portions of the story. In these portions Elvis’ plan to get his client’s daughter and her boyfriend back have misfired and he’s now in the hands of the Bajadores. So Pike goes about the bloody business of getting his friend back. Joe Pike is one of the coolest characters in crime fiction and he’s even cooler when he’s getting righteous vengeance.
“Taken” isn’t just about action and righteous vengeance though. Ultimately it’s about the friendship between two heroic and different guys. Pike is a dangerous and incredibly tough character, and when Elvis is taken you get to see him emotionally vulnerable in his own way. The scenes where Pike is worrying about his missing friend are haunting. His determination and worry are palpable in a very striking way. Then with Elvis you get to see his utter faith that his friend will come through and rescue him. It keeps him going and it helps him save the people his client paid him to find when the book’s chaotic and exciting climax breaks out. It’s truly powerful stuff to read and it’s one of the reasons why “Taken” is so good.
That’s not the only reason though. And “Taken” isn’t just about Elvis and Joe. Crais allows a number of characters to step into spotlight like Krista Morales and Jack Berman, the people that Cole has been paid to find. The scenes of them in captivity are frightening and they work because they’re likeable characters. You root for them and you want to see them survive their ordeal. You also get to spend time with some of the criminals involved in the bajadore operation and Jack Berman’s aunt, I won’t spoil her role in the story though because it’s a fun revelation.
My favorite of these other characters had to be Jon Stone. Stone has appeared in other books in this series, but this is the first time we really get to spend some time with him and see what makes him tick. He’s a truly fascinating character too. Stone is an ex-member of the Army’s elite Delta Force unit and these days he works as a Mercenary. His friend and occasional business associate is Joe Pike. So we get lots of scenes of Stone with Pike, but we also get some scenes of Stone by himself and that’s where he truly shines. Stone is egotistical but he’s got the cunning and intelligence to back it up. He’s also got a great sense of humor and is a very intense individual. I love Elvis and Joe, but I almost hope that Crais’ next novel is a Jon Stone one.
So to sum up “Taken” is proof that Robert Crais is one of the best writers working in crime fiction today. He’s truly firing on all cylinders in this book and the result is a heart felt, exciting, scary, and powerful action-detective story that’s packed to the brim with fascinating characters.