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.

5 comments:

Rachel said...

Hiya, clicked over the from the SBD round-up. I'm hoping you can help me out. I'm looking for a good PI or mystery novel. I like them just fine but have never been able to get into them as some do. (I am mostly partial to 90s spy thrillers if that gives you any indication of the type of action books I like.) Anyway, there are so many and they are so popular that I feel like I'm missing out. I want to go in armed this time, though, so I get the good ones that might rope me in rather than the so-so that never get me coming back for more. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Hey Rachel! Glad you came over. One of the knock down best thrillers I've read in years is Demolition Angel by the same Robert Crais whose book I just reviewed. Not an Elvis Cole/Joe Pike book but a stand alone thriller about Carol Starkey, a former bomb squad tech, now working homicide ,who goes after a serial bomber. Absolutely loved that one. And if you do want to try Cole and Pike, start with L.A. Requiem.
For PI books, Sue Grafton is really good. Her Alphabet series books are always well written and have great plots. A is for Alibi is the first. I like Robert B. Parker a lot, but his more recent books haven't been as compelling as the earlier ones. Try Early Autumn, which is one of my favorites.
Of the bestseller guys I like James Patterson's Women's Murder Club books far more than any of his other series. I have enjoyed the ones written with Maxine Paetro, beginning with 4th of July, more than the first three which were written with Andrew Gross. But that's just me. The WMC books are a combination of suspense and mystery.
For honest to gosh mysteries, my favorite whodunit writer is Ruth Rendell, author of the long running Inspector Wexford series. British police mysteries but with lots of atmosphere and psychological suspense. My favorite Wexford is Murder Being Once Done. Four out of five Anglophiles love Rendell. I also highly recommend Anne Perry's Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mysteries. These are set in the Victorian Age and Perry does a great job of bringing the period alive and of spinning clever mysteries. Brunswick Garden is a favorite, but all are worth reading.
That's the stuff that pops into my head. Hope some of that is to your tastes.

Rachel said...

Wow, thanks so very much! I love the detail and variety of this list. I can't wait to get started. I'm just about to go hit up my local library's online catalog to see where I can start. Thanks again and I'll try to comment again to let you know how it goes (and maybe even hit you up for more suggestions once I find the type I really enjoy:).

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Sure thing. Drop by any time.

Rachel said...

Hello again! I just finished Demolition Angel. It was checked out forever at the library so I just got it this week. I really liked the writing style and the plot definitely kept me engaged. I'm going to find L.A. Requiem next as I think I'll enjoy Crais if DA is any indication. I also found A is for Alibi at a book sale the other day so I can start that one up soon. Thanks again for helping me navigate the thriller/mystery genre. :)