Chasing Darkness (Simon & Schuster)

by Robert Crais

After producing a subset of novels exploring the origins of his Los Angeles detective characters Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, and taking a break from those characters with a stand-alone novel (2006's The Two Minute Rule), Robert Crais returns to the Cole/Pike franchise with a renewed sense of purpose. Crais' goal this time out is not to get the readers inside his protagonists' heads, but to do what he has always done so well: put those characters through the hurdles in a compelling mystery story. When a murder suspect previously cleared by Cole is found dead and in possession of physical evidence linking him to the crime, Cole single-mindedly pursues the truth and uncovers a possible political conspiracy in the process in Chasing Darkness.

Cole began as something of a happy-go-lucky character who could turn on the serious when necessary, but recent personal tragedies have centered him a bit. Pike is his opposite number, stoic, purposeful, and nearly humorless, unchanging as the mountains and the tides. After the explorations of their pasts, they are given added color for long-time readers while Crais newbies will still have a thrilling story to consume. All the things one would expect are here: spot-on Southern California details, a rich supporting cast, an eye for forensic detail and Crais' generous sense of humor.

Despite the slick procedural aspects and the propellant action of a typical Crais book, he always succeeds because of his sheer commitment to his characters. All that mystery window-dressing would be enough to make a bestseller, but Cole and Pike pursue justice and seek voice for the victimized because it is The Right Thing To Do. It's a common axiom to consider as a reader, and one could argue that it's even simplistic, but Crais always makes that truism absolutely profound, which is a big reason why he is one of this reviewer's favorite writers time and again.