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Book Review- The Sentry

The tough as nails gunslinger is a staple of action, crime, and thriller stories. That’s because observing them from the distance of a story is insanely cool. Deep down inside we wish we could be like them; cool, lethal and unstoppable. These people fascinate us because of what they can do, but what’s sometimes even more fascinating is what they can’t do. The truth of the matter is these heroic men of violence are broken. To be so dangerous they had to give up a part of themselves that makes them function in a normal world. So to watch them wrestle with a normal emotions like love is just as cool as watching them mow down the bad guys. In Robert Crais’s new novel “The Sentry” you get the best of both worlds.

The Sentry stars Joe Pike a character I first got to know as a supporting player in Crais’s Elvis Cole series of detective novels. Pike, an ex-marine, ex-cop, and sometimes mercenary served as both Elvis’s unofficial partner and his muscle. He was the Hawk to Cole’s Spencer and like Robert B Parker’s character Pike was equally fascinating. He was a strange, dangerous, but extremely loyal and decent man. He was a heck of a character and readers got to know him even better in “The Watchmen”; Crais’s first novel where Pike was the protagonist and Cole was the supporting player. Pike once again stepped into the spotlight in Crais’s last novel “The First Rule”. With “The Sentry” Crais pens his third and perhaps best Joe Pike novel yet.

At the beginning of “The Sentry” Pike stops some gangbangers from assaulting a local restaurant owner and because of this act he meets the owner’s niece and is smitten. So much so that he vows to protect the women and her uncle. Pike’s vow get him involved in something bigger than a confrontation with local gangbangers though. That’s because the girl and the uncle are not exactly what they appear to be. They have a dark past and it’s about to come gunning for them, unless Pike and Elvis Cole can stop it.

What makes Crais’s Joe Pike novels so compelling is that Pike is not like the readers, but he’s still a very human character. He’s good at the art of war but not the art of interpersonal interaction. So in “The Sentry” it’s very cool to watch Pike try to process his attraction to the restaurant owner’s niece, Dru Rayne. It gets a hold of him and causes him to do some dangerous and careless stuff. It also hurts him quite a bit on an emotional level. So it’s refreshing to know that even expert mercenaries have girl troubles.

“The Sentry” is a Joe Pike novel, but Elvis Cole plays a big part in it. More so than the other two Pike novels, and you can tell Crais is getting hungry to write another novel where Elvis is the star. Cole’s scenes in “The Sentry” are just as cool as Pike’s. Crais shows that Elvis too is haunted by the spectre of love. In a couple of especially poignant scenes the detective reconnects with the love of his life, a woman he had to let go. Probably the most compelling things about the Cole scenes though are his interactions with Pike. The Pike-Cole friendship is at the heart of “The Sentry”. In fact Cole is cast in an interesting role here. Where Pike is usually protecting him, here Cole must work hard to protect Pike from his dangerous attraction to Dru Rayne.

Another major supporting player in “The Sentry” is the insane hitman known as Daniel. In several portions of the book the readers get to see things from Daniel’s chilling point of view. In these scenes Daniel is often accompanied by two other companions. They are companions that no one else can see or hear, but Crais lets the reader draw their own conclusions about the nature of Daniel’s imaginary friends. They are only addressed in the scenes from Daniel’s point of view. So they are both believable and creepy.

Crais also populates “The Sentry” with several other interesting supporting players. To me the most interesting was Detective Button. He’s a cop who at first seems like a cliché. He hates Pike because he’s violent and threatens to bring him down. During the course of the story though he works with Pike and actually helps instead of hindering him. You even get a scene from Button’s point of view where he tries to make amends for some of his shortcomings earlier in the novel.

“The Sentry” succeeds in the plot department too. It’s full of twists and turns and the characters react to them in believable and poignant ways. Those twist and turns eventually lead to a climatic explosion of violence along LA’s Mullholland Drive.

So “The Sentry” is another great novel by Robert Crais. It’s highly entertaining, things happen that cause the protagonists to change and grow, and you get some interesting insights to the human condition. Not many writers can do that with series fiction. They usually get comfortable but, like fellow LA crime writer Michael Connelly, Crais isn’t interested in giving readers a recycled tale where his protagonists are going through the motions. He wants to give us a novel that’s exciting and matters in the larger story of his characters, and “The Sentry” certainly” does both of those things.

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