(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Early in the Elvis Cole series, Robert Crais’s dedication to the craft and vision of classic hard-boiled detective-fiction writers is apparent. Cole maintains a private code of integrity and genuine compassion within a Southern California rank with corruption, deceit, violence, and greed. For all his edgy swagger, his hip cynicism, and his violent cunning, Cole espouses a romantic code that values friendship, particularly to his enigmatic partner Joe Pike, and duty as a kind of moral authenticity maintained against a universe of cutthroat mercenaries and unrelieved pretense. Like the classic hard-boiled detectives, Cole finds his greatest calling—and his deepest professional reward—in rescuing beautiful damsels in distress and lost or kidnapped children. Cole has little interest in puzzling out the psychology of the criminal mind and a crime’s motives and rationales but rather accepts as a given that fallible people—Crais’s preferred adjective is “lost”—are capable of committing evil. World-weary, Cole refuses to concede. The associations that Crais makes between Cole and childhood, through references to Peter Pan and characters from familiar children’s books, cartoon classics, and Disney films, suggest that Cole’s unshakeable faith in fundamental values stems from a childlike faith in the ability to triumph over a world of corrupt adults. As the series developed, Crais has allowed Cole to evolve from a hip outsider with an engaging cynicism to a complex character who comes to accept as emotionally necessary the fragile bond to significant others, not only Joe Pike but also to a Louisiana lawyer and part-time television personality named Lucy Chenier, who joined the series in Voodoo River (1995).

In the Carol Starkey series, Crais investigates the darkest implications of Cole’s problematic moral vision. If Cole, amid a chaotic world busy with crime, is cool, calm, and together (as suggested by his Eastern rituals), Starkey is fragmented, troubled, and coming apart. She is not a private investigator. As a police officer, she must exist within the harrowing reality of mayhem. As a bomb squad detective, she is involved in disarming devices and therefore plunged into criminal activity. She is constantly aware of crime and its consequences because of the scars that she bears, the ghastly cross-stitching on her body that is the result of her own brush with death. Her considerable struggles with private demons—most notably her troubling dreams, her alcohol abuse, and her testy aloofness—suggest a kind of anti-Cole. Whereas with Cole, the truth, finally revealed, heals, with Starkey, the truth hurts, the very message left at a bombing site by the serial bomber in Demolition Angel.

The Monkey’s Raincoat

In the first book of the series, The Monkey’s Raincoat, Elvis Cole helps Ellen Lang track down her missing son and husband, a hapless talent agent who has become involved in a vast underworld of drug running to help continue his Hollywood lifestyle. The...

(The entire section is 1243 words.)