By Robert Crais
Penguin Group, 2013 ($27.95)
Reviewed by Rick McMahan
Robert Crais is best known for his Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels. At one time, you would read the phrase Cole and Pike novels, but now he essentially has a Cole and Pike novel or a Pike and Cole novel, having branched out with the "sidekick" Joe Pike taking center stage in several books. But now and then, Crais steps away from his series and writes a stand alone novel. I don't know if I'm the only fan who does this, but usually when he announces that his newest book is a stand alone, I groan a little in disappointment. Not because his stand alone books are bad, but just that Crais is stepping away from his main characters. So when I heard that Crais' latest book (SUSPECT) would feature a point of view of a dog, I groaned, not once but twice. Outloud. There are plenty of books with canines as main or supporting roles, and a lot of them end up being "cutesy" or "tongue in cheek."
I should have known, in the hands of Robert Crais any subject, including writing from a dog's POV, would be "done right." Crais doesn't just do it right — he does it damn near perfect. SUSPECT opens with Maggie, a German Shepherd who is a US Marine working K-9, on patrol in Afghanistan. The opening scene is intense — very intense. We are introduced to Maggie and the world in her eyes, just before something awful happens. And the reader is there for the blow by blow.
Next, Crais uses a parallel scene setup to introduce us to human "lead," LAPD Officer Scott James. James and his partner are on their last tour of duty together before James is slated to transfer to an elite LAPD unit. However, in an instant things go from mundane to bad as the two officers find themselves in the middle of a gunfight as they stumble upon what appears to be a professional "hit." When it's over Scott's injured and his partner is dead. And all of the shooters are gone like ghosts.
After recovering from his wounds, we join Scott James as he's finishing his training as an LAPD K-9 officer. The reader knows what's coming — Scott and Maggie are going to be destined for each other. In a lesser writer, this plot device would be hard to believe and done wrong. Crais's touch is such that the reader knows the two will be joined together even before they do, but it seems destined to be, and it is "right" in the writing. Both Scott and Maggie are scarred physically and emotionally, both suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The shooters in Scott's case, the men who killed his partner in front of his eyes, have never been brought to justice, and Scott can't let it go. He thinks that if he solves the case it will help his own demons. And there we are as readers — now we are off and running. Once I started this book, I was hard pressed to put it down. In fact, I stayed up way past oh-dark-thirty, unable to stop as the story picked up.
SUSPECT is a pitch-perfect book. In fact, I hope Crais will come back to Maggie and Scott again in another book and not just let them be a one-and-done set of characters.
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