Monday, January 18, 2010
The First Rule
Frank Meyer has a nice home in the Los Angeles suburbs, a successful business, a loving wife, and two young sons. Then one night a crew of professional home invaders shows up and murders Frank and his entire family in cold blood. The cops think Frank may have been involved in some shady dealings since the owners of the other half dozen houses hit by the crew all had connections to drugs or other illegal activities. What the cops don't know is that the crew was led this time by a high ranking Serbian gangster. What the gangster and his killers don't know is that ten years earlier Frank Meyer had been a mercenary working with one Joseph Pike. Frank was one of Joe Pike's guys and you do not mess with Pike's guys. With a little help from his private eye pal Elvis Cole, Pike goes looking for revenge and if there is anyplace you don't want to be, it's in Pike's way.
In case you're not familiar with Joe Pike, he's the sidekick of the aforementioned Elvis Cole, the star of a dozen or so books by author Robert Crais. Through the first half dozen books, beginning with the Monkey's Raincoat, we only see Pike through Cole's eyes. Pike is an enigma, a man who wears reflective sun glasses day and night and who has forward pointing red arrows tattooed on both shoulders to remind himself to never back down. In the early books I always thought of Pike as a knockoff of Robert B. Parker's Hawk, the coolest of the cool and baddest of the bad sidekick who would do the things the hero wouldn't. In fact the first six or so Elvis Cole books are fairly standard private eye novels, well written, but not that different than the other host of P.I. books that were popular in the 1980s-1990s.
That all changed with the 2000 release of L.A. Requiem. I can't explain how much deeper and richer this novel was than the one's that preceded it. There are hints of it in the previous book, Sunset Express, but in Requiem it was almost as if Crais was reinventing both himself and his characters. In that book we begin to get glimpses of Joe Pike's past and to learn what made Pike the seemingly emotionless killing machine we'd seen in earlier books. This continued through the next several Elvis Cole novels right up until 2008's The Watchman, the first book to be subtitled a Joe Pike Novel, relegating Cole to sidekick status this time and taking us fully inside the head of Joe Pike. I've raved and raved about that book here and elsewhere and I've been impatiently awaiting the next Joe Pike novel.
The First Rule doesn't disappoint. While the plot doesn't allow for quite the emotional jolt of The Watchman, Rule still shows us things about Pike that we didn't know. I can remember being a little concerned that learning too much about Pike would lessen his mystique, but that hasn't been the case at all. There are layers and layers to the lonely, damaged man who remade himself into the man he is now.
And of course, amid all of this there is action, action, and more action. The First Rule is a white knuckle thriller almost from the word go and seldom gives the reader a chance to catch his or her breath. Can't recommend this one highly enough.