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Book Review- “Suspect”

March 15, 2013 2 comments

crais-suspectI discovered the works of crime writer Robert Crais back in 1997 and have been reading him ever since. Over the years his novels have evoked a variety of emotions. They’ve scared me. They’ve excited me. They’ve moved me. And yes, they even made me cry. Usually those tears came about because of an especially emotional denouement. I never cried over the events that happened in one of his prologues until I read the writer’s latest novel “Suspect,” which is a stand alone novel not part of his usual Elvis Cole-Joe Pike series.

My tears came about because in that prologue we meet Maggie, a german shepherd that works for the Marine Corps sniffing out IEDs in Afghanistan. What makes this chapter so powerful is that it’s told from Maggie’s point of view. Crais expertly captures that point of view too. It feels believable. You understand how pure and noble a dog’s love for a human being can be. So when Maggie loses her partner in a surprise attack it’s utterly heartbreaking. I was sobbing by the end of the prologue.

Maggie isn’t the only character in “Suspect” that’s lost someone. The other protagonist is LAPD officer Scott James whose partner was gunned down in a mysterious night time assault that murdered two other people and left Scott severely injured. When the novel opens Scott has just about recovered from his energies and ready to be a cop again. Only he doesn’t want to become attached to another partner. So he transfers to the LAPD’s K-9 unit thinking that his connection with a dog would be superficial at best.

When it comes time to pair Scott with a dog he discovers Maggie who is still haunted by the events in Afghanistan and is considered unfit for duty. Scott is also still haunted by the death of his partner. So sensing a kindred spirit he decides to take a chance on Maggie and see if he can work with her and get her fit for duty.

That partnership between Scott and Maggie is the emotional center of the book, and it’s the reason why “Suspect” is so powerful and moving. Asrobert_crais they train and live together Scott and Maggie heal each others emotional wounds. The scenes are sweet, funny and full of heart. You see things from Scott’s perspective, but you also get Maggie’s point of view too.

I would have been fine if “Suspect” was simply about the friendship between Scott and Maggie, but Crais also give the duo a mystery to dig into that’s pretty compelling. Together the duo set out to find the people that murdered Scott’s partner and what really happened on that fateful night. It’s a harrowing tale too because by the time their investigation kicks into high gear I was so emotionally invested in Scott and Maggie that I genuinely feared for their safety.

Scott and Maggie’s investigation brings them face to face with both fellow cops and some seedy characters. You primarily see these characters through their eyes, but Crais occasionally shifts things and gives readers the perspective of a police detective and even the book’s main villain. It’s an interesting technique that spices up the story.

So ultimately “Suspect” is Robert Crais’ best stand alone novel to date. I’m a cat person, but I was absolutely captivated and tremendously moved by the bond between Scott and Maggie. That’s how good the book was.

Categories: Book Review

Book Review- “All the Wild Children”

All_the-wild-childrenJosh Stallings took the old adage, “write what you know” to heart and penned, “Beautiful, Naked, and Dead” and “Out There Bad” two amazing crime thrillers starring ex-marine turned strip club bouncer Moses McGuire. If you think that means Stallings has some experience with crime and shady environments you’d be right, but you’re not looking at the bigger picture. The McGuire novels aren’t just about noirish intrigues. They’re about a physically and emotionally scarred man trying to be better. Sometimes Moses stumbles and falls and he often pays the price for lousy decisions, but he gets back up and tries again. After reading Stallings new book “All the Wild Children,” a “noir memoir,” it’s clear that’s a struggle the writer knows an awful lot about.

“All the Wild Children” opens with a series of time jumps that introduce us to the struggles Stallings faces with the family he made and the family he was born into. The writer keeps that format throughout the entire book. It’s a haunting, organic, and effective way to tell a very personal story. The book’s various chapters focus on a specific event or topic so you can see how these elements impact and resonate throughout Stallings’ life

Despite the time jumps, “All the Wild Children” does unfold in a somewhat linear fashion. The early chapters of the book go back and forth between his childhood years and introduces us to a cast of eclectic, and vibrant characters, Stallings’ family. It’s here where his struggles begin because in the these opening chapters Stalling shows us that families can be both a source of soul crushing weakness and inspiring strength.

The weaknesses come from Stallings’ parents who are fascinating characters. His mother and father love the writer and his siblings but they’re two very damaged and complex people, who can’t live together. They eventually split, but even divorced they’re not the best of parents. So Stallings and his brother and two sisters had to band together and almost raise each other.

That bond that the Stallings kids form is the strength that the writer draws from his family. Because of that tight knit bond we get to know JoshStallingsStallings’ siblings really well, especially his older brother Larken who protects him, comforts him, and often gets him into loads of trouble.

A lot of that trouble comes when Stallings and his brother hit high school. Ravenswood, the forcibly integrated Palo Alto high school they attend is a dangerous place in 1973. In this section of the book the writer gains some life long friends but is also exposed to a world of crime, drugs, and violence. This leads to some tense encounters with police and junkies, and explosive encounters with jocks.

In one of my favorite chapters from this section Stallings recalls all the fun, chaos, and danger that resulted from his family opening a teen night club. You’ll learn about the many death threats the writer and his brother received as well the occasional fights that broke out on the front porch of the club.

In the final portions of the book an adolescence full of fear, violence, alcohol, and drugs begins to catch up with Josh as he pursues his future wife and a career in entertainment. There are disappointments, funny insights into the movie business, brushes with fame, and alcohol fueled meltdowns including one that happens on the set of low budget action film being shot in Russia during the final days of Soviet rule.

The other big element of the final portions of “All the Wild Children” is Stallings and his wife Erika’s struggles raising their two children: one developmentally disabled and suffering from a schizophrenic style disorder and the other who develops a dangerous drug addiction. These sections are harrowing and heartbreaking as the writer deftly recalls having to forcibly restrain his older son during many of his psychotic breakdowns and having to arm himself with a buck knife before searching for his missing younger son in a house of drug addicts.

So when you add that all together you’ve got a powerful, exciting, and pretty inspiring read. “All the Wild Children” is a book that reads like an expertly blended cocktail of Stephen King’s “Stand by Me,” the drug fueled misadventures of Hunter S Thompson, the crime writing of George Pelecanos, and the wry, powerful, and often hilarious anecdotes of Henry Rollins. Plus it’s a true story about a guy fighting a never ending, extremely difficult, and ultimately rewarding battle; the battle to be a better person.

Categories: Book Review