Crais, Robert. Stalking the Angel.

NY: Bantam Books, 1989.

The Elvis Cole/Joe Pike private eye novels have been called “smart guy noir” and that’s certainly the case in this second installment in the series. Elvis is definitely an oddball, with an office that sports a Mickey Mouse phone, a Pinocchio wall clock (the eyes move; “You go to the Pinkertons, they don’t have a clock like that”), a figurine of Jiminy Cricket, and a Spiderman coffee mug.

But he also takes his work seriously and when land development tycoon Bradley Warren asks him to find a stolen Japanese book — a first edition of the Hagakure, one of the foundations of Japanese culture and psychology — he agrees, even though Warren himself is totally obnoxious. But he’ll do it his way. “The check rents. It does not buy.” His first inquiries lead him to think the heist was managed by the local yakuza, Japanese organized crime, as part of an internal power play, but then Mimi, Warren’s sixteen-year-old daughter, is kidnapped from a hotel lobby. Elvis brings in his partner, the quietly lethal Joe Pike, ex-cop and part-time mercenary, and the two get on the missing girl’s trail. And everything they previously believed suddenly changes.

Crais does an excellent job with the characters and the action and the plotline will hold your attention. He almost overdoes Cole’s smartass observations and commentary, in my opinion, but the wry humor is part of what makes this series what it is. I’m also not sure Cole and Pike could really get away with offing so many bad guys in every case, but the reader will simply have to suspend disbelief on that score. And the convolutions of who and what to believe — Cole never does quite get all the answers — bring this episode in the series to a higher level.

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