Star-crossed lovers of 'Demolition Angel' make a volatile team

(The Fort-Worth Star-Telegram, June 11, 2000)

Byline: Carlo Wolff

A provocative blend of insider information, speculation and psychological
terror, Demolition Angel signals Robert Crais' evolution as a crime writer.
The characters of Carol Starkey and Jack Pell, quintessential star-crossed
lovers, are his richest, most involving creations.

Scarred on the inside and the outside by the deaths of former soulmate Dave
"Sugar" Boudreaux and bomb squad associate Charlie Riggio, Starkey sets out
to discover who killed them, and to simultaneously reclaim her professional
reputation. Not only must she conquer gin and Tagamet, but Starkey also has
to regain self-confidence as she explores territory both physically dangerous
and psychologically terrifying.

"She had been to the bomb site, she had seen Riggio's body, she had smelled
the heat and the blast in the hot air,"  Crais  writes. "After that, her fear of seeing
the tapes seemed inexplicable, though she understood it. Starkey wouldn't be seeing
only Riggio on the tape; she would see herself, and Sugar. She had imagined the
events of her own death a thousand times, but she had never seen tape of the actual
event, or even thought that the moments had been recorded until now: Joking with
Sugar, the news crews watching with electronic eyes, tape reels spinning for the
six o'clock news. Memories of those things had vanished with the explosion until

Also surfacing, besides those TV tapes, is Jack Pell, a rogue agent from the Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who is as interested in the bomb squad bombings
as Starkey. Ultimately, the two focus on "Mr. Red," John Michael Fowles, the psycho-
path and obsessive who, in a masterstroke of characterization, kills, as it were, for
technique. (Clever of  Crais  to give his villain a name that evokes such true ghouls
as John Wayne Gacy and the granddaddy of modern psychopathology, John Wilkes

What makes the novel so compelling is  Crais'  insight into the chief characters,
particularly Starkey, Pell and Fowles, a software genius of terminal creepiness:

"John looked at himself in Starkey's mirror. He made a wide monkey smile,
inspecting his teeth, then considered her toothbrush. He put it in his mouth,
tasting the Crest. Mint. He worked it around his teeth and gums, brushed his
tongue, then put it back in the jar."

While the healing of Starkey and Pell is the core of the story, Crais  also
effectively grouts the cracks with minor characters such as Starkey's prob-
lematic partner, Beth Marzik, and Dallas Tennant, the chilling cracker who
ultimately gives Fowles away. Unlike earlier Crais  novels that feature the
easily accessible team of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, Demolition Angel mines
deeper psychological veins.  Crais'  command of material and willingness
to explore complicated characters without settling for easy resolutions give
Demolition Angel an explosive power beyond the reach of normal whodunit

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