Sunday, March 11, 2007

A former sidekick stars in Crais' taut thriller The Watchman

Books now read in ’07: 21
Title: The Watchman
Author: Robert Crais
Genre: Thriller
Date Completed: 3-10
Pages: 292

Joe Pike, the perennial sidekick of Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole novels, takes on a starring role in The Watchman. It is a performance that will have fictional sidekicks from Dr. Watson to Robin wondering why they never got their shot at the big time.

Crais has been waiting for the exactly the right opportunity to showcase Joe Pike in his own novel. He found it with The Watchman. A taut thriller in which, somehow, Crais manages character development in the midst of a breakneck pace, but then Crais, as the author of such novels as L.A. Requiem, Demolition Angel, The Last Detective and The Two Minute Rule, has consistently demonstrated his mastery of the modern thriller.

As Cole’s sidekick, Pike is the tight-lipped enforcer who, behind his ever present sun glasses, never betrays his emotions. Pike doesn’t smile, let alone laugh. A subtle movement of the mouth, a lifted eyebrow, is about all the emoting he allows himself. Pike is a former cop turned mercenary turned avenging angel. His moral code allows him to kill bad guys without hesitation or compunction. Pikes make it abundantly clear – he doesn’t like bullies

That’s apparent in the opening pages of The Watchman. Once Crais dispenses with the prologue – an eloquent piece of writing -- the body count immediately begins to rise. Yet despite the pace and the body count, Crais manages to paint a thorough portrait and sympathetic portrait of Pike. The vehicle Crais uses to develop this taciturn man is rich girl, Larkin Conner Barkley. An innocuous auto accident, in which Larkin sees a man she shouldn’t see, leaves her fleeing for her life. Pike becomes her protector. He’s the watchman.

Elvis is here, of course, and John Chen, but it’s Pike’s novel and he makes the most of his starring role. One suspects – one hopes -- there will be future starring roles. Pike isn’t a sidekick any more.

* * *

I picked up my copy of The Watchman Friday – Crais was in town for a reading and book signing. I started reading it about noon Saturday and finished it later that day. It took some planning. After finishing The Flanders Panel, I deliberately chose All Aunt Hagar’s Children, a collection of short stories, knowing I could put it aside at any time, which I did.

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