Contribution

(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.