Robert Crais Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Before Robert Crais turned to detective fiction in the late 1980’s, he had for more than a decade enjoyed a lucrative career as one of network television’s premiere scriptwriters, developing scripts for top-rated crime shows, most prominently L.A. Law (1986-1994), Hill Street Blues (1981-1987), Baretta (1975-1978), Cagney and Lacey (1982-1988), and Miami Vice (1984-1989). That long and successful association helped shape the elements of Crais’s signature narratives: snappy dialogue, hip characters, fast-paced storytelling, ingenious plot twists, and sustained momentum toward a dramatic shoot-out/showdown. In addition, Crais’s long background in the Hollywood environment gives his prose a postmodern edge as he alludes to a wide range of classic films, television, and popular music. From Ernest Hemingway, Crais mastered a prose line that is economic and clean of ornamentation, and from John Steinbeck, he adopted a dark vision of a morally bankrupt universe in which nobility, trust, and compassion are rare.

However, it was Crais’s love of the hard-boiled detective fiction of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett that influenced the creation of Elvis Cole, who solves crimes as much with relentless investigation and hard evidence as with intuitive perceptions and a sixth sense about character. A solitary moral agent in an otherwise seamy and mercenary universe, Cole sees himself as the protector of the vulnerable, particularly imperiled women and lost children. Unlike Chandler and Hammett, Crais renders modern Los Angeles, despite its criminal excesses, with keen compassion, respecting its diversity, its energy, its hard neon beauty, its cheesy glitz, and its unrelenting cool.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Anderson, Patrick. The Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction. New York: Random House, 2007. Contains a short biography of Crais, with analysis of his The Last Detective and The Monkey’s Raincoat.

Crais, Robert. Extensive Web site maintained by the author that provides reviews, synopses, biographical information, and contact numbers.

Jones, Louise. “From Cop TV to Mystery Maestro.” Publishers Weekly 250, no. 10 (March 10, 2003): 49. Examines Crais’s evolution as a mystery writer and discusses The Last Detective.

Marling, William. Hard-boiled Fiction. Case Western Reserve University. A valuable resource, maintained by William Marling, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, of the hard-boiled detective genre with analyses of modern expressions.

Panck, LeRoy Lad. “Robert Crais.” In New Hard-Boiled Writers, 1970s-1990s. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 2000. Important overview of the early Cole titles with helpful genre context.

Philips, Gene D. Creatures of Darkness: Raymond Chandler, Detective Fiction, and Film Noir. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2000. Accessible and thorough review of the author Crais cites as his major influence.