"The Wanted"

by Robert Crais

Review by Ron DeSourdis

Elvis Cole is back in The Wanted and it's a welcome return to form after the somewhat disappointing (to me, at least) The Promise of two years earlier; a rare mistep in a in a thirty-year career.

Hired by Devon Connor, the worried single mom of a teenage loner, Tyson, who seems to have suddenly acquired a significantly larger income, Cole tries to reassure her: "It's probably not a bad as you think, Ms. Connor. These things usually aren't."

But it doesn't take "the world's greatest detective" long to discover that it's not only as bad as she thinks -- it's worse.

Much much worse, although it takes considerable detective work to gradually figure out just how bad things really are. Finding Tyson becomes a more urgent task for Elvis and his partner, tight-lipped ex-cop, ex-Marine and ex-mercenary Joe Pike, when Cole finally realizes it's a matter of keeping Tyson, and his mother, alive.

As he has done in the past, Crais introduces his antagonist (in this case, two of them) at the beginning of the book. Harvey and Stemms are themselves accomplished investigators who seem to have access to whatever high-tech doo-dads and law enforcement resources they need to locate their quarry. And they have no compunction about eliminating anyone they see as a potential threat. I've seen earlier reviews which compare these two to various comedy duos and conclude that this makes them less threatening, but I beg to differ. For this reader, the rather unusual sensitivities of this grisly odd couple works by presenting them as more human than many of their fictional peers and thus a good deal more frightening, as the deadly efficiency with which they go about their work is anything but comedic.

Given that we know the baddies from the outset, the novel is less a 'whodunit?' than a 'who are they and what are they after?' mystery. But the suspense doesn't suffer for it -- it starts from the opening chapter and builds steadily through to the novel's conclusion.

Of course there is also some playfulness as the plot unfolds, not only from Cole's wisecracks and wry observations, but in the agreeable reappearance of a recurring character in the series, police criminalist John Chen. Additional pivotal characters include some teens with truly annoying qualities with whom Cole is somehow able to empathize (Cole's compassion has long been one of the character's more endearing traits). Various cops, witnesses and others are all brought to life with warmth and humor. One aspect of this entry which I feel triumphs over its predecessor is the restoration of Pike, despite his usual reticence and ever-present sunglasses (described at one point by Cole as being "so dark, they looked like twin doors to nowhere"), to the status of a living, breathing participant in the story.

Behind the mystery and excitement, the theme of parent-child relationships (one of Crais' favourites) runs throughout The Wanted, and is handled with just enough honestly and emotional heft and wit to avoid seeming preachy or pretentious.

The Wanted is just what I wanted from Crais - a complete winner, with Elvis and Joe once more in top form.

Welcome back, guys!

* * * * *

The Elvis Cole Novels by Robert Crais

Respectfully submitted by Ron DeSourdis, April 2018.


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