Saturday, May 14, 2011

Big Trouble in Little Tokyo in 'Stalking the Angel'

Review: STALKING THE ANGEL (Bantam Books 1992)
Author: Robert Crais

You might recall I previously reviewed THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT, a private eye novel written at a time when that genre was considered to be on its last legs. That novel not only got nominated for a couple of major mystery writing awards, but it won an Anthony and a Macavity Award. In addition, it launched the Elvis Cole mystery series, comprised of a whole slew of novels. So much for prognostication, huh?

But this review is of Book Number Two, STALKING THE ANGEL, so let's just take things one step at a time, shall we?

I'll start off by noting that Elvis Cole is quick with a joke. So quick, he had me laughing out loud by Chapter One. That's pretty quick.

He meets his client, a Mr. Bradley Warren, standing on his head (Elvis, that is -- Warren is on his feet). Warren is in a suit. He blusters and frowns. This seems to be his specialty. That and glancing at his Rolex. He has a female (of course) assistant who is attractive (of course) and who abides her employer's attitudes (of course) for reasons only she knows.

Here's the problem: Someone has stolen a priceless Japanese manuscript called the Hagakure. Well, not really priceless -- worth more than three million dollars (BIG money in the late 1980s when this was first written). It belongs to one of his clients. Boy, do they need it back. The cops are involved, but they aren't getting the job done nearly fast enough. (Glancing at Rolex. Frowning.) Oh, and by the way, Warren is supposed to receive the Man of the Year Award in some big deal ceremony. Now isn't that special?

At this point, Cole takes quick action. He tells the would-be client to go pound sand.

*sigh* If only things were that simple. But then there would be no story, so ...

Cole takes the case. What follows is the obligatory visit to Warren's mansion, where comparisons are made to things so gargantuan that even Raymond Chandler might find them to be a bit of a stretch. :) Warren's wife, Sheila is dressed for tennis (what else?) and drunk before noon. Their daughter is teenaged, detached and (maybe) stoned. Hard to tell. Okay, so what's new?

All right, so even if we have seen this particular scenario before, that is so not the point. It's not that it's been done before, it's the WAY it's done that counts. And no one does it quite like Robert Crais.

No one else can take you into the heart of Little Tokyo, where Elvis has to go to investigate the case, and not only make you feel you're there, but ratchet up the suspense as he discovers a body killed in a most gruesome way, probably at the hands of the yakuza (the Japanese version of the Mafia).

In addition, Crais has the amazing ability to build build tension and suspense in his story to the point where you simply can't read fast enough, then suddenly insert something incredibly funny. But then -- boom! -- the moment's over, and things go south. And they turn dangerous. Or sad. Or solemn.

And, of course, there's Elvis' partner, Joe Pike. How could I overlook him? Never! He's essential. Pike is amazing, awesome, kick-ass -- call him what you will. Where would Elvis be without him? Is this a question that comes up later in the series? I wonder ... please, commenters, no spoilers. :)

Okay, so to sum things up, the daughter disappears. And Warren -- well, he just keeps on acting like, "Hey whatever. I'm Man of the Year! How about that?" This leads to stuff happening that's better discovered by simply reading the book, believe me. But know that things eventually get resolved. In a bittersweet way. Okay, a bit heavier on the bitter than the sweet, perhaps.

Have you ever heard of a plot device known as a MacGuffin? Hitchcock used it in his films. It was a thing the characters pursued that didn't really mean anything, but drove the plot. I don't think it's a spoiler to say the Hagakure probably qualifies as such.

PS: Has anyone noticed an interesting resemblance between the Hagakure and the title to this book? :) Just sayin'.

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