I’ve read every book by Robert Crais, a catalog that now totals fifteen. I’ve enjoyed them all very much, but I think that his new novel, Suspect, is possibly his best one yet. That’s saying a lot, but this one is that good, that powerful and that emotionally gripping. Strangely, I was reluctant to read it at first. I’m a big fan of Crais’s Elvis Cole and Joe Pike crime fiction novels, considering it one of the best series in the genre. Actually, the earlier in the books in the series were pretty much all Elvis with sometimes an occasional cameo from Joe Pike. But recent novels such as The Sentry, The First Rule, The Watchman, and Taken have given the very intriguing Joe Pike character a much greater role, an emphasis I’m quite happy about.
Thus, when I saw this new book, I was initially disappointed that it wasn’t part of Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series, but a tale with all new characters. But that didn’t stop me from buying it. I’ve also enjoyed the one-off books by Crais such as Hostage and Demolition Girl, so I felt this new one would also make for a satisfying read. Well, it was that and much more. If you can make it all the way through this amazing book with dry eyes, you’re a tough one indeed.
Basically this is the story of a cop’s relationship with a dog, and also his quest for redemption, if not revenge, for the killing of his previous police partner. Maggie the dog, a German shepherd, served with the US Army in Afghanistan and after being wounded in a battle/ambush is sent back to the States and ends up getting trained for an elite K-9 unit with the Los Angeles Police Department. Scott James, her new handler with the K-9 unit was wounded during a shooting the previous year. His partner died at the scene and Scott spent several months in a coma in hospital, his friends and colleagues unsure if he would recover. Well, he did, albeit with various physical and mental scars, and eventually, he’s cleared to resume work, but this time with the K-9 division. Besides having injuries in common, there are other intangibles that bond the man and dog together. Read the book and you’ll understand more. This is a special story.
Crais obviously did a ton of research into these dogs and their impressive skills and unique character traits. These dogs, as shown in the book, are fearlessly protective of and totally devoted to their handlers. But you don’t have to be a dog owner or animal lover to enjoy this novel. The story has all the addictive elements of previous Crais mysteries, following a fascinating investigative trail, revealing both likeable and loathsome personalities, all of it spiced by razor sharp, authentic dialogue. Maybe Joe Pike’s not around this time to watch your back and hunt down the bad guys, but this is still a great read. I also like the way this story includes observations from the dog’s point of view. Truly brilliant stuff. My only complaint would be that the ending came to a head almost too quickly. Compared to the pace of the rest of the book, this climax felt a bit rushed and not fully plotted out. I also felt that a couple of the characters and their relationships could have been developed further.
But perhaps there is more to come and this novel won’t be another one-off after all. I certainly hope that Crais will offer us more stories about these intriguing characters, particularly LAPD Officer Scott James, the gruff but kind-hearted Sergeant Dominick Leland, and most importantly the dedicated dog Maggie.