It's a good time for tough girls.
Last fall, Robert Parker introduced Sunny Randle in "Family Honor,"
fluff of a tough-girl book. Cassie Black, the first woman to join Michael
Connelly's rich collection of starring characters, robs occupied hotel rooms
and holds off the bad guys by any means necessary in the winter's "Void
Moon." This spring, Robert Crais, a Louisiana native and author of the
Elvis Cole series, has blasted Carol Starkey into the mystery world with
'Demolition Angel' (Doubleday, $24.95). She just may be toughest of them
all. After all, she's died and lived to tell about it.
Starkey was serving in the Los Angeles police bomb squad one unlucky
She and her lover, fellow bomb squad member Sugar Boudreaux (a Louisiana
bayou boy), were sent out to defuse a fairly straightforward device. But they
didn't count on the intervention of tectonic plates shifting far below the earth.
The earthquake set off the bomb, which killed Sugar. Dead at the scene
more than two minutes, Starkey rejoined the world carrying indelible physical
and emotional scars.
Now a detective in the L.A.P.D. criminal conspiracy section, she
Tagamet, straight gin and bad dreams. Then the call comes. A cop on the bomb
squad has been killed as he was disarming a device. The detonator is an adapted
radio receiver from a kid's remote-controlled toy -- meaning the bomber had to
be in 100-yard range when he pressed the "go" button. Then he just stood there
and watched as the blast lifted Charlie Riggio 14 feet into the air and threw
him 38 feet.
The device is a top-notch job, built using Modex, which the average
can't just cook up in the kitchen. She may not be great at human relationships,
but Starkey is the best there is at reading a bomb. This one has messages that
pack a wallop.
There's a bomber out there, you see, who likes to take on the best one
pro to pro. His name is Mr. Red. Special Agent Jack Pell from Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms in Washington, wants to take him down. Starkey
thinks Pell also wants to take over her case. This dysfunctional trio is,
Crais does a great job of structuring the book. Most of it is
Starkey's third-person point of view, with segments from Pell and Mr. Red
interspersed. We even discover Claudius, an Internet chat room where bombers
trade tips on their work and share gossip about the leading celebrities in their
world -- including Starkey and Mr. Red.
While Crais clearly loves his characters and writes them
with great sympathy,
this book is darker than any in the Cole series. I laugh out loud at various points
in the Cole books; here cynicism reigns. And Starkey sometimes seems a bit two-
"Demolition Angel," however, does have its full share of the strengths
characterize Crais' Elvis Cole mysteries ("Voodoo River," "Indigo Slam,"
"L.A. Requiem" and others), including the Los Angeles setting, the compelling
action and the impressive writing. I'd love to see Starkey go mano-a-mano with
Cole's sidekick, tough-guy Joe Pike -- and I'm placing no bets on who would
But there's one sure thing -- Starkey and Crais deliver
up pure page- turning
jolts of thriller joy.
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