I like smart-aleck detectives. People like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone, Rex Stout’s Archie Goodwin, Robert Parker’s Spenser, and Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole. As you probably can tell from seeing my reading list, I’m pretty much a sucker for humor in any of its manifestations (okay, maybe not puns). Crais’ style is close to Parker, yet Crais’ competant detective doesn’t have the macho baggage that Spenser carries. (To digress, that macho baggage is actually what marks the Spenser books above the crowd, as Parker forces his “independent, macho cowboy” type to interact with the modern, touchy-feely world. You can bet that Spenser is a “sensitive, new age guy.”) Cole may not be as macho as Spenser, but he is still fearless–he is a Vietnam vet, after all–but most of the strong, silent type of detective stuff is handled by the secretive partner, Joe Pike, while Cole gets to zing all those one-liners with abandon at anyone who crosses his threshold.
The mystery here is one that Parker would have taken to as well. Cole is hired by a wealthy businessman to retrieve on of the last remaining copies of the Hagakure, the book that defines Japanese feudal culture. Along the way, we get to meet the Yakuza (Japan’s version of the mafia), some serious dysfunctional families, a cult, and thow in a bit of true love and a nice look at ethics, and you’ve got a Spenser novel (if you replaced Cole with Spenser and Pike with Hawk).
Where Crais doesn’t imitate Parker is his writing style. Parker has so pared down his text it seems as if he’s trying to write haiku, or maybe just the stuff for the back of the paperback. Crais isn’t going to threaten Dickens for word count, but his style is fuller–looking more like early Parker (The Godwulf Manuscript) than anything Parker’s done in the last five years.
[Finished 28 June 1994]