Sunday, 18 January 2015

Crime, Overstuffed Armchairs & a Time Before the Internet

I've just finished reading Sunset Express by Robert Crais, a private detective crime novel featuring California PI Elvis Cole and his sidekick, Joe Pike. It's the six in the Elvis Cole series, and while I've been reading them in order it has been a while since I read the last one.

I'll come on to why I like the series and what I thought in a minute, but first a brief synopsis.

A woman has been murdered, and the evidence all points to the husband, a super rich businessman. However there are suggestions that the female detective who found the crucial piece of evidence and made the arrest will do anything to get ahead - some even believe she has falsified evidence before and would do so again to get her career back on track. Elvis Cole is hired by the defendant's legal team - headed by celeb hotshot lawyer Jonathan Green - to look into the Detective's background, and follow up on some other leads.

This is a good, solid detective novel. There are some good twists and turns, but overall you know roughly what sort of book you are going to get before you set out. They've all been good so far, and I liked this one at least as much as the others. One quirk I noticed about the book though, is that whatever house Elvis Cole goes into, whether victim, suspect or witness, there always seems to be an overstuffed armchair. And this got me thinking. Now that it's on my mind, I'm sure there's always overstuffed armchairs in crime novels, and don't read about them elsewhere. Come to think of it, who overstuff's their armchairs? I'm not sure if I've seen one before in real life!

Anyway, moving on from that, what is it I like about the Elvis Cole novels? One of the most noticeable things, and something I've noticed in other crime novels (such as Sue Grafton) is that the books take place in the modern day, but before mobile phones or the internet. It is a time when, if you need to find something out you do some good old fashioned detective work you don't just fire up Google. It's also a time when, if you are stuck somewhere, you can't just whip out your iPhone... I like this about it, and think detective crime novels like these would be much less enjoyable if they featured lots of modern technology (note - just realised it was written in the late 1990s when the internet was in its infancy and the populous were only just starting to get obsessed with their mobile phones. It will be interesting to see if later books keep the traditional pre-internet perspective).

I also like the Elvis Cole books because they are funny. Elvis is a real wisecracking smart-ass, and really likable about it too. Over the course of the books you really feel like you are getting to know him. The reader is invited into his home, find out what he's cooking, what he's drinking and anything else that's going on. There's a bit of a sub-plot involving his girlfriend that spans several books, and he's not a dysfunctional loner unlike many detectives you meet in crime fiction. All of this makes the books quite a refreshing read.

If you are thinking of picking up an Elvis Cole novel, you might want to start at the beginning with 'The Monkey's Raincoat' but you can I believe read them in any order, certainly in the case of the first 7 books anyway. The 8th book, LA Requiem, is deeper and darker, and mark something of a turning point in the books. Or so I've heard anyway, I'm not there yet though.