Crais, Robert. The Monkey’s Raincoat.

NY: Bantam Books, 1987.

This is the first of the long-running Elvis Cole/Joe Pike detective stories and it’s a good starting place, too. Cole is a thirty-five-year-old Vietnam vet with a strong background in martial arts, a quirky personality, a taste for kitsch, and a sometimes peculiar sense of humor. He’s been a PI for eight years in partnership with Joe Pike, a highly laconic and extremely dangerous mercenary soldier.

In this first one, a young woman named Ellen is dragged in to see him by her friend because her husband has been missing for three days, and she doesn’t want to bother the police. Ellen has a very doormat-ish personality but she’s getting worried, so Cole looks into things — and almost immediately discovers that the husband has been shot execution-style. Like a good citizen (and to keep his license), Cole goes to the police himself. And shortly afterward, Ellen and her young son are abducted. Word comes back to him that a Mexican mobster has had a couple of kilos of high-grade cocaine stolen and the late husband is suspected. An exchange is expected, but Cole knows no one is meant to survive the deal. But first he has to locate the cocaine himself. Enter Pike and a large supply of firearms.

This is an auspicious debut novel and it won a number of awards. Crais provides just enough back-story for the reader to visualize the two protagonists, with plenty of hints that you hope will be explained in later episodes — a nicely tantalizing narrative strategy. Cole comes across as both a self-aware tough guy and a sentimentalist, while Pike is more of an ominous and shadowy presence. Ellen is nicely handled, too, with a theme of transformation under severe stress. This is an easy series to get hooked on.

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