AlanReads: THE WATCHMAN by Robert Crais

Anyone familiar with the PI Elvis Cole novels of Robert Crais knows that Joe Pike, Cole's shadowy partner, is one of those fictional "Competent Men." You know tha type -- exhaustively trained, intensely experienced, and in any and all situations...competent (like Ian Fleming's James Bond or, more currently, Lee Child's Jack Reacher). So we know that a man like Joe Pike, ex-Marine, ex-L.A. police officer, ex-mercenary, is more than capable of getting out of any trouble he finds himself in. Question is: can Joe Pike carry the weight of an entire novel?

Crais, in his latest novel, THE WATCHMAN, proves he certainly can. And to insure this, Crais wisely enlists the assistance of a few slightly less than competent cohorts (all familiar to Crais fans), as well as a slew of plot twists and, most importantly of all, whiplash pacing.

The story opens in the wee hours of pre-dawn, as ultra rich, ultra pampered socialite Larkin Connor Barkley (think Paris Hilton) speeds down the deserted Los Angeles streets on hew way home from a late night Hollywood party. In an instant another car appears out of nowhere and Larkin rams into it. Dazed but not seriously harmed, Larkin tries to help the two men and one woman in the other car, only to be left alone and even more confused. A few days later, Larkin discovers the accident has made her a witness to a secret federal investigation, and the target of several hired killers. Pike, contacted through his former police training officer, is enlisted to protect the girl.

Not surprisingly, protecting Larkin quickly becomes Pike's entire reason for living. But to fully understand what he's up against he calls upon the help of his partner, Elvis Cole, and another series alumnus, John Chen, a reliable but insecure crime scene investigator who hides behind a wall of bravado. With Larkin in tow, and constantly complaining every step of the way, Pike works his way toward the answer of just who is trying to kill the girl, and why. Along the way Crais allows a few brief glimpses into Pike's past, but manages to snap right back into the narrative without missing a beat.

THE WATCHMAN is a sleek, muscular, and throughly entertaining book. And the appearance of Cole is among its reassuring pleasures. When last seen in THE FORGOTTEN MAN, Cole was slipping into maudlin self-absorption. But here, Cole has returned to the wisecracking assurance that made him so likable in the past, even while on the mend from gun shot wounds suffered in that previous novel.

THE WATCHMAN may not be the best place for new readers to first experience Joe Pike and Elvis Cole, but they would not be seriously disadvantaged if they did. If this is your introduction to Robert Crais, be prepared to rush out and grab all of the books preceding this one. And enjoy yourself!

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