Monday, May 24, 2010

Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais

Title: Stalking the Angel
Author: Robert Crais
Publisher: Bantam (1989)

Well, it's official. I've hit the end of Crais's Cole/Pike backlist. On the one hand, it's always depressing when you get caught up on a new author and then have to wait around for the next installment (though it does help you feel closer to the author's long-time fans:), but then sometimes you get lucky and the last one you read ends up being one of your favorites so you feel like you went out on a high note. And that's the case for me with Stalking the Angel. I really liked it - despite the fact that I suspect Starkey was its previous owner. There's a distinctive odor wafting from the binding... Anyway...

Elvis Cole, World's Greatest Detective (payment optional), is hired by a real jizzwad named Bradley Warren. Warren was in possession of a rare Japanese book that was stolen from his property. He'd like Cole to find it. Well, actually, he'd probably like to tell Cole to go to hell but his assistant, Jillian Becker, convinces him to hire Cole. Cole begins his search by looking for the type of people that might be potential buyers for this type of loot. The situation becomes complicated when the Warrens, who it turns out are a pack of loonies, receive some threatening phone calls. Joe Pike, I'd as Soon Kill Ya as Look at Ya, is called in to assist on the protection front. Cue action!

My main beef with the book is a flaw I feel most of the early books in the series exhibit: Cole is tough and not to be bullied and the reader Shall Know and Understand This RIGHT FUCKING NOW! Cole is a great character and he's easy to figure out. The action makes the above description nearly impossible to miss so why must I be absolutely bombarded with this info in the first few pages? I'd prefer for these traits to make themselves known over the course of the investigation rather than be beaten over the head with them. My other tidbit of annoyance is the uncreative parents. Daddy Warren is an ambitious asshole who ignores his family, Mommy Warren feels neglected and useless and so acts like a non-neutered puppy anytime new man meat comes into her life. They work within the story but aren't exactly original in their construct.

What I really love about this book is the misperceptions and wrong impressions. I'm not suspicious by nature and I'm downright gullible in fiction. I'm happy to buy right into whatever the protagonist is thinking or doing (provided it's not stupid, I might be happily naive in fiction but I'm usually annoyed by idiocy) and I'll view the the story and characters through that lens. Due to this, if the protag(s) misunderstands something I usually do as well. In Stalking the Angel Cole's understanding of the players involved changes constantly. The best part is that there isn't complete resolution either. When the book is over the truth about everyone's motives isn't laid out. It's left to the reader to decide what was really going on. I like that a lot. My favorite books are the ones I want to re-read immediately so as to determine just what the characters might have been thinking through the book and how that led to the conclusion. Basically, I like an author that gives me some work to do. A story is more fun if my interpretation is required.

I thought the book was pretty dark in tone. You get your Cole jokes and whatnot but, for the most part, a lot of dark themes are explored and that's probably why the resolution is so ambiguous. Unlike the later books in the series the reflection on said themes is external. As in, Cole's not thinking about his own dark tendencies but observing the psychoses of those around him. Cole is deeply empathetic so he's a good character to use for exploring general human actions and motives.

As an aside to the main action Becker's character brings up a really interesting issue. As a boss, Mr. Warren appears to be pretty admirable. Arrogant and demanding, yes, but ostensibly fair. Becker has a high regard for his even-handedness in business matters. The events of the book bring her into the more personal side of Mr. Warren's life and she struggles to reconcile the two personas. This I like. It's an issue I think many people can relate to. I've often met someone in a certain capacity and because of that experience developed an impression and respect for them. Then, for whatever reason, there's a shift and I begin to know this same person in a different capacity and I'm horrified at who they now seem to be. Very interesting stuff and I thought it appropriate that the theme came up in a book rife with confusing first impressions.

So now here I am saying bye, bye to a thoroughly enjoyable backlist and already waiting anxiously for the next installment. If you haven't read this Cole novel yet I think it's a great one to put on the TBR pile! I'm just off to put my copy back by the open window and hope the ciggy smell eventually departs...

rating: 4 of 5 stars


  1. Try putting one or two of those fabric softener sheets for the dryer between the covers for a couple of days, see if that helps absorb some of the odor.

  2. Fine review, Rachel. The dark theme (and ambiguity) in StA makes it a very interesting early novel by RC. I'm curious as to the order you read them now (as you ended the line with the second in the series). Thanks for this.

  3. Naomi - fantastic idea! Thanks a heap.

    lp13 - Lemme see if I can remember:

    Demolition Angel was first for sure though I realize that is simply RC and not Cole/Pike...

    As best I can recall:
    L.A. Requiem
    The Watchman
    The Monkey's Raincoat
    Chasing Darkness
    Voodoo River
    The Forgotten Man
    Sunset Express
    Lullaby Town
    The Last Detective
    Free Fall
    Indigo Slam
    The First Rule
    Stalking the Angel