Mystery novelist hits it big

(The Tampa Tribune, May 12, 1996)


An adventure novelist begins writing with two books beckoning from
the mists of the future. Both are incomplete, yet both appear just real
enough to act as a spur on those long nights when the right words will
not come.Obviously, one is the first published novel, that magical sale
that marks an arrival on the playing field. Without that, budding novelists
remain just -budding.

The other important milestone is just as critical. That one is the breakthrough
novel, the book that makes its way to the bestseller lists. It's the book that
starts the phone ringing, the one that catapults an author onto the Charlie
Rose show to exchange quips with that worthy bibliophile.Some writers
never need that second novel, because their first one climbs the charts like
a Patriot missile. But many others plug along for years, building up a respect-
able body of work. And then - WHAM! - their ship comes in.

If there is any degree of proportion in this most challenging of all games,
Robert Crais' ocean liner just docked. "Sunset Express" just might be his
Queen Mary.

Teddy Martin has a major trump card to play when he is arrested for the
brutal murder of his wife. There was enough money to hire flamboyant
defense attorney and media darling Jonathan Green. It is inconsequential
that the case against Martin appears as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. After
all, Martin lives in Los Angeles, where spin is everything. Lawyer Green
is pulling out all the stops, including launching a concentrated effort to defame
the LAPD detective who made the case against his client. Enter Elvis Cole-
private detective and public wiseacre.

Elvis has a pretty full plate when he is induced to join the Green Team. The
woman of his dreams is in town and he's making a full court press in pursuit
of domestic bliss. But money is money, and with the aid of his often silent and
always lethal partner, Joe Pike, Cole begins to turn over a few rocks.

Unfortunately, all the slimy creatures he exposes to the light of day have a
common characteristic. They all point back to his client. It may be irrelevant
to lawyer Green that Teddy Martin really did kill his wife, but Elvis Cole has
a big problem with helping a murderer get off the hook.

What makes the Crais novel stand out is quite simple. Skill. The years of
hard work spent perfecting his craft have paid off, resulting in a solid grasp
of the essentials of crime fiction. Lively characters, steady pace, crackling
dialogue and enough plot twists to keep a reader's suspense levelon the rise -
the basics are all here.  Crais'  sense of timing is also impeccable, since
"Sunset Express" explores many of the thorny questions raised by the recent
Simpson trial debacle.

So it turns out that Elvis really is alive. And well.

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