My rating: 3 of 5 stars
So, a cool blonde walks into the office of a sarcastic, wise-cracking private eye in Los Angeles and finds him upside down, at his ease, standing on his head. And we're off on another noir adventure with Elvis Cole, the "world's greatest detective" and his partner, Joe Pike, who never smiles, never takes his sunglasses off even at night, is a stone-cold killer and probable psychopath.
Also, let us not forget Elvis' beer-drinking cat and his yellow Corvette and his office that is decorated with Disneyland collectibles. Quirky enough for you?
That's our basic cast of characters. What are they up to in Stalking the Angel? Well, that blonde who walked into Elvis' office is there, with her boss, to hire Elvis to find an ancient Japanese text that has gone missing. The book was being kept in the businessman's home safe, but it did not belong to him. It was on loan to him from some of his Japanese contacts. He is understandably anxious to get it back.
Cole, somewhat reluctantly because he doesn't like the man, agrees to take on the job and begins his investigation. He meets the businessman's family which consists of a wife, who is a drunkard and who signals that she is oh-so-available to Elvis, and their teenage daughter, who at first meeting appears to be something of a pathetic nonentity.
Cole's investigation leads him deep into the Japanese subculture of Los Angeles where he encounters the Japanese mafia, the yakuza. He suspects that this criminal organization is somehow involved in the disappearance of the ancient book, but before he can pursue this thread very far, things start getting extremely complicated.
The teenage daughter disappears, apparently having been kidnapped, and the family is warned not to notify the police. Meanwhile, the businessman fires Elvis, since he was supposed to be providing protection for the family and the girl disappeared on his watch. Strangely though, neither of the parents seem all that concerned about her disappearance. At least not concerned enough to actually change their plans.
Elvis is mortified about the girl's disappearance and determined to get her back, whether or not he gets paid for it.
The practical reader wonders how Elvis Cole will ever make a living as a private detective because he seems to specialize in pissing off his employers and getting fired! Moreover, he never has a straight conversation with anyone. His responses are always sarcastic wisecracks and, for some reason, that seems to rub his employers the wrong way. Truth to tell, it kind of rubbed me the wrong way after a while as well. The character at times seemed to be straining for that sarcastic comeback insult.
Cole, undeniably, has some interesting characteristics. He is tough, honest, true to his own moral code, and able to view the world, in all its ambiguity and hypocrisy, with clear eyes. He's also cynical and uses humor to distance himself from uncomfortable emotions. He often makes surprisingly insightful and even poetic observations of his world. He is, in short, a complicated human being. Robert Crais has done a good job of writing him into existence and making us care about him.
The pattern of these books seems to be that we start with a seemingly simple investigation that gets more and more complicated as it proceeds and the body count rises, with the climax being a showdown at the O.K. Corral type ending with Cole and Joe Pike facing down the bad guys and basically blowing them all away. This one is even a bit more intricate than that, in that we are left with questions as to what really is the truth of what has happened to the teenage daughter. As she tells Cole, "I'm such a liar."
So, what is the truth? We are left to wonder.
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