Thursday, February 17, 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet: Letter F - FREE FALL by Robert Crais

Jennifer Sheridan, the young impressionable, innocent and plucky heroine of RC's fourth Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel is the kind of girl that Elvis was born to protect. Cole is the ultimate self-confessed, knight-in-shining armor. A Los Angeles-based private eye you can turn to when your life begins to go down the tubes. He is the orginal gun-carrying, gut smashing, boy-scout, a self-admitted Peter Pan who will come to your rescue for a two thousand dollar advance. Hey, he is, after all, '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, I can't help you. Ha!

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. Mark is a 'special forces' L.A. cop and cops have 'codes' they live by. 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. Cops don't usually like that. At the beginning of the book, Elvis tries to make Jennifer see reason. But even before Elvis knows Mark is a cop, he is leery of the case. There's just so much Jennifer isn't telling him.

"On the phone you said someting 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's 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 know it's hard Ms. Sheridan. It it was easy, you wouldn't need me. But if you don't tell me about him, or what you think he's up to, I can't help you. Do you see that?"

.....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 Pinochio 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. Almost as soon as Jennifer leaves his office, Elvis hears from Mark Thurman and his quarrelsome lout of a partner, Floyd Riggins. According to Mark, the 'trouble' Jennifer senses is of a 'personal' nature and Elvis needs to give him [Mark] time to set things right. Sounds reasonable. Elvis has another go at disintangling himself from what has the appearace of turning into a messy case. 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. Everytime I read this book I can't wait to get to this moment. And everytime 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 come to her aid.

AND before you get the idea that this is a comedy, please think again. It's just that life is occasionally funny and RC recognizes that.

From that moment on, Elvis is up against the worst of the L.A. police. Soon enough he sees the wisdom of calling on his partner, the enimatic, taciturn, sunglass-wearing, man of few words: Joe Pike. Pike is also man of, shall we say, 'reputation.' Everyone treads carefully around Joe, an ex-cop who doesn't suffer fools lightly and is afraid of no one.

Here's 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?

Some partner, is right. From that moment on Elvis and Joe take on the whole LA Police force AND a bunch of lethal gangbangers. The violence escalates and they find themselves on the other side of the law, (my favorite part of the book) and on the run from desperate bad cops, mis-informed good cops and a bunch of murderous gang members - ugly, nasty dudes who will stop at nothing, including murder, to hang onto their turf.

There is some pretty visceral violence in the latter part of the book, including one awful close-up murder of a good guy, but that's part of the bargain you make when you choose to read an Elvis and Joe story. Despite that, there are also moments of pure enjoyment as the relationship between Elvis and Joe is a joy to read about. For me, 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 always easy to live in or with. A world in which each man relies completely on the other for back-up. 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 knows the city of Los Angeles like he knows the back of his hand. This comes across in all his books as the setting becomes an integral part of each story.

Definitely a series that should be read in some sort of order. If you're interested, try:


After that, as you please.

Robert Crais has begun a new series told from Joe Pike's point of view:


I am currently reading THE SENTRY. Can't wait to report. So far the previous two books have been nothing less than brilliant. When it comes to thriller writing, there's just no one better working today. There's Robert Crais and then there's everybody else.


  1. Thanks for these insights in FREE FALL Yvette

  2. You're welcome, Kerrie. Sorry I missed E, but reali life intruded. Ha! Now on to G!


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