First there was Travis McGee in the ’60s. Then there was Spenser in the ’70s. Then came V. I. Warshawski in the ’80s.
These three, as I see it, are the start of the self-reflective American P.I. genre. These were the sleuths and gumshoes who were constantly sharing their thoughts and opinions and gripes—unlike their stoical precursors. Their stories were almost as much about their lives as they were about their current cases.
Two more good ones came along in the ’90s—Doc Ford and Elvis Cole. Doc was very much from the McGee lineage. But Elvis came out of Spenser. A wise-ass tough guy with a nose for crime and a heart of gold. His first adventures were very much Spenser-like, except in LA instead of Boston. Two decades later both Doc and Elvis are still trucking along. But the Doc Ford books, while entertaining, haven’t really shown much growth or innovation; and at times have jumped the shark. Robert Crais’s Elvis, though, has developed a gravitas and intelligence that approaches that of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch (IMO, the best police procedural going). The newest Elvis yarn, The Promise, is a case in point.
This novel involves what seem to be two separate cases. Elvis is hunting for a missing woman who works for a munitions company. One of the first places he goes turns out to be a murder scene in a house packed with explosives and military-grade weaponry. Simultaneously, he encounters the K-9 cop and his German shepherd, who both saw the house’s surviving occupant, the killer. Going forward, the apparently separate plot lines unfold in primarily three POVs—Elvis’s, the K-9 cop’s, and the dog’s.
Having been at the crime scene, Elvis is immediately a suspect. He needs to juggle the confidentiality of his own case with the increasing police pressure he faces. In the meantime, the K-9 cop and his dog are targeted by the bad guy, who the cop had clearly seen and can identify. An intricate game of cat and mouse ensues—masterfully crafted by Crais. Virtuoso stuff. The key to everything is the missing woman, whose story is on the order of Greek tragedy. After Elvis figures out her role, and negotiates tricky alliances, things begin to fall into place.
I know it’s still early in the year, but if you read only one piece of crime fiction in 2016, make it The Promise.