Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: FREE FALL (1993) by Robert Crais

Jennifer Sheridan, the young and impressionable, innocent and plucky heroine of Robert Crais' fourth Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel is just the kind of girl that Elvis was born to protect. After all Elvis is the ultimate self-confessed, knight-in-shining armor in the guise of a Los Angeles-based private eye -  someone to turn to when your life begins to go down the tubes. He is the original gun-carrying, bone-crushing, boy-scout; a self-admitted Peter Pan who, for a two thousand dollar advance, will come to your rescue with a quip and an elbow to the gut. He is (in his own words) 'the world's greatest detective." Or at least, that's how he answers his phone. World's Greatest to the rescue.

If you can read this book and NOT fall in love with Elvis, then, well, you are beyond mortal help.

Back to the story: Jennifer Sheridan is sure that her fiance Mark Thurman is in some sort of deep trouble but since he won't talk to her about it, she can't help him. She wants to help him. She loves him. He lover her - that will never change. No matter what. Her earnestness is infectious.

"On the phone you said something about your boyfriend."

"My fiance. I think he's mixed up in some kind of criminal thing. I've asked him, and he denies it, but I know that something going on. I think he's scared, and that worries me. My fiance is not scared of very much."

I nodded again and tucked that away. Fearless Fiance. "Okay. What kind of crime are we talking about.?"

"I don't know."

"Is he stealing cars?"

"I don't think so."

"Is he embezzling?"

"No. It wouldn't be that."

"How about fraud?"

She shook her head.

"We're running out of choices, Ms. Sheridan."

.....I took out a yellow legal pad, a black SenseMatic pencil, and made as if I were poised to copy the rush of information she was about to provide. I drew a couple of practice marks on the page. Subliminal prompting. "I'm ready. Fire away."
She swallowed.


She stared at the floor.

I put the pad on the desk and the pencil on the pad. I put my fingertips together and looked at Jennifer Sheridan through the steeple, and then I looked at the Pinocchio clock that I've got on my wall. It has eyes that swing from side to side as it tocks, and it's always smiling. Happiness is contagious. It was twelve twenty-two, and if I could get down to the deli fast enough, the turkey would still be moist and the baguette would still be edible. I said, "Maybe you should go to the police, Ms. Sheridan. I don't think I can help you."

She clutched the purse even tighter and gave me miserable. "I can't do that."

I spread my hands and stood up. "If your fiance is in danger, it is better to get in trouble with the police than it is to be hurt or killed....Try the police, Ms. Sheridan. The police can help you."

"I can't do that, Mr. Cole." The misery turned into fear. "My fiance is the police."

"Oh." Now it was my turn. I sat down.

So begins this very tricky case.

Turns out Mark is a 'special forces' L.A. cop and cops have 'codes' they live by - Jennifer understands that. But Mark has NEVER kept anything from her before. Jennifer is worried. She wants to hire Elvis to find out what's going on.

Elvis isn't crazy about the idea of checking into a cop's private life - they don't usually like that.

Sure enough, almost as soon as Jennifer  Sheridan has left his office, Mark Thurman and his quarrelsome drunken lout of a partner, Floyd Riggins show up, with attitude. (Obviously they had been waiting and watching outside.) The meeting doesn't go well. Floyd is a pain in the ass from the get-go. Mark calms him down and explains to Elvis that the 'trouble' Jennifer senses is of a 'personal' nature and Elvis needs to give him [Mark] time to set things right.  It's personal, he insists. Okay, sounds reasonable.

So Elvis has another go at disentangling himself from what has the appearance of turning into a very messy business. He meets Jennifer for lunch near her office, to let her down gently.

What follows is a very funny restaurant scene when Jennifer refuses to let Elvis off the hook. Every time I read this book I can't wait to get to this moment. And every single time I laugh out loud. It's one of those perfectly paced sequences RC is famous for. Elvis is such a sucker for a dame in distress. Especially for a dame who won't stop crying in a crowded restaurant with diners nearby ready to spring to her aid.

AND before you get the idea that this is all fun and games, please think again. It's just that life is occasionally funny (it would have to be for us to stand the rest of it) and Robert Crais makes the most of it. This is one of the things I love best about his writing.

The plot of FREE FALL swirls around L.A. racial troubles, wayward cops and gang violence. But somehow, RC makes it all work together in a new way. (The book is over twenty years old but the same type of troubles, unfortunately, are still pretty much on-going.)

Once he finally accepts the case Elvis finds himself up against a rogue unit of the fearsome L.A. police. Within days, calling on his partner, the enigmatic, taciturn, sunglasses-wearing man of few words, Joe Pike, seems like a good idea. Pike is a man of, shall we say, 'reputation.' Everyone treads carefully around Pike, an ex-cop who doesn't suffer fools lightly and is afraid of no one.

The first phone call between Elvis and Joe:

I used the payphone there to dial a gun shop in Culver City, and man's voice answered on the second ring. "Pike."

"It's me. I'm standing in a 7-Eleven parking lot on San Pedro about three blocks south of Martin Luther King Boulevard. I'm with a black guy in his early twenties named James Edward Washington. A white guy and a Hispanic guy in a dark blue 1989 sedan are following us. I think they've been following me for the past two days."

"Shoot them." Life is simple for some of us.

"I was thinking more that you could follow them as they follow me and we could find out who they are."

Pike didn't say anything.

"Also, I think they're cops."

Pike grunted. "Where you headed?"

"A place called Ray's Gym. In South Central."

Pike grunted again. "I know Ray's. Are you in immediate danger?"

I looked around. "Well, I could probably get hit by a meteor."

Pike said, "Go to Ray's. You won't see me, but I'll be there when you come out."
Then he hung up. Some partner, huh?

These books are not comedies, not cozies, not anything but great private eye stories with their fair share of action and violence, but that not especially overdone. The duo's sense of justice and the rightness of things is especially acute and I like that no matter how difficult the situation, there is never any idea that Elvis and Pike won't do the right thing.

From the moment Pike comes on board, he and Elvis will take on the whole LA Police force AND a bunch of heavily armed lethal gang bangers. As the violence escalates, they find themselves on the other side of the law, (my favorite part of the book), on the run from desperate bad cops, misinformed good cops and a bunch of murderous punks - ugly, nasty dudes who will stop at nothing, to hang onto their turf. It is especially satisfying to read about bad cops getting their comeuppance but it is also especially disturbing reading about cops who have compromised their souls and in the process lost themselves.

But despite the constant sense of danger, there are still moments of pure delight as the relationship between Elvis and Joe is always a joy to read about. These books are basically at their heart all about the strength of their friendship - how Elvis and Joe react to the world around them. A world that isn't  easy. A world in which each man relies completely on the other. There's never any question in my mind that Joe would die for Elvis and vice versa. Though not related, they are brothers. I love that about these books. There are certain 'absolutes' that I enjoy reading about - Elvis and Joe's friendship is one of them. 

Robert Crais loves the city of Los Angeles and knows it like he knows the back of his hand. This comes across in his books as the setting is an integral part of each story. I don't know L.A. at all, but somehow, sometimes, reading R.C., I feel as if I do.

This is a series that should probably be read in order. (Always remembering that Joe and Elvis grow richer and stronger in tone and depth of character as the series goes on almost as if Robert Crais didn't actually realize what he'd created until the series took deeper hold of his imagination.)

My favorites going in:


I recommend reading at least two of these BEFORE you read L.A. REQUIEM which is, to my mind, a genre masterpiece. REQUIEM is very much enhanced if you already know the depth of Elvis and Joe's friendship and Elvis's relationship with attorney Lucy Chenier whom he met in VOODOO RIVER. After that, as you please. It's difficult to go wrong with Robert Crais at the helm. Sequence is not absolutely necessary, after all I began with VOODOO RIVER and then worked my way around the series. Not every book is a keeper, but those that are will remain in my library (to be read and reread) forever.

There are also some quite wonderful books written later on from the point of view of Joe Pike - not to be missed.

Since this is Friday once again (funny how that works) it's time to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other writers are talking about today.


  1. the excerpt sort of grabbed my brain... ordinarily i wouldn't consider reading anything before about 1975, but this sounds excellent... am i, he said, going to have to violate my self imposed reading habits??? well, maybe; i'll look for Crais the next time i'm in the library... tx for making me challenge my more than arbitrary limitations...

    1. Oh these books are well worth breaking your self-imposed habits, Mudpuddle. :) Once I'd read my first Elvis and Joe book, I immediately went on to read them all. And you know how much I LOVE vintage. Some rules are made to be broken.

  2. misprint: i meant "after", not before... sorry...

    1. Didn't even notice - I knew what you meant. :)

  3. I read several Elvis/Pikes awhile back, Yvonne. Love Crais's style. Now you've whetted my appetite for more!

    1. I'm Yvette, m'dear. You rarely go wrong with Robert Crais. I LOVE his Joe and ELvis books.

  4. I have been planning to get back to Robert Crais for years. I read the first two in the Elvis Cole series and I have LULLABY TOWN, so I guess that is what I should read soon. Did you read SUSPECT, and what did you think of that? That is the only other book of his I have right now.

    1. LULLABY TOWN is one of my faves, even if it is highly improbable. I most especially love the last quarter of the book which is impossibly tension-making. Joe and Elvis in the woods up against a cadre of Mafia killers. :) I liked SUSPECT, I didn't love it. It's not an Elvis and Joe book. But on its own, it's quite good as the beginning of a new series.

  5. I've read all the Elvis Cole / Joe Pike books and love them. I love that Joe is even a vegetarian! I want him to protect me and keep me safe in this crazy world. He could do it.

    1. Our lives would all be much better with Joe Pike at our sides. :)


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