Byline: Lane Crockett
Louisiana author Robert Crais has returned home.
At least he has in his latest book called "Voodoo
River." Crais is from
Baton Rouge and has been carving himself a career in the mystery field
with his Elvis Cole private eye series.
His first Cole novel, "The Monkey's Raincoat,"
served notice when it
was nominated for several mystery awards.
Through three other books - "Stalking the Angel,"
"Lullaby Town" and
"Free Fall" - Crais primarily has kept Cole in Los Angeles, where the
irrepressible, wise-cracking but sensitive detective runs an agency with
the enigmatic Joe Pike, a silent type who is always around as a safety net
to catch Elvis when he falls.
Now comes "Voodoo River," and Elvis comes to Louisiana.
The thrust of
the story concerns a popular television actress who was adopted and is now
trying to find her birth parents. The action is mainly around Baton Rouge,
Eunice and Ville Platte, with even mention of a lawyer from Shreveport.
"This is a very personal story for me in many
ways," says Crais in a phone
interview from Kansas City, Mo., where he was on a book-signing tour. "I
wanted to tell a story about adoption because I am adopted. A couple of years
back, I had a momentary and minor health scare, which gave me pause. I gave
serious thought to wondering just what was up the birth family tree as far as my
medical history. I had conflicted feelings about that, and it led me to think that was
fertile ground for an Elvis Cole mystery. I am from Louisiana, so I could tell the
story and go home to tell it.
"I come back every year to visit my parents, who
are, and always will be, mom
and dad. One of my favorite things is to go back and gain weight. I think eating
crawfish is an inoculation against becoming a Yankee."
Crais says writing "Voodoo River" was difficult
because he was dealing with
some issues that he had chosen to ignore. His adoption had never been an issue
"I never gave a thought to my birth parents or
possible reunions. But I wanted to
treat the characters honestly, dig deep and try to plumb possible scenarios. That
was difficult to to do."
Elvis' delving into the TV star's past leads to
some dark secrets, as well as
murder. He calls the book title "poetic writer-ly stuff," meaning the "river"
symbolizes the woman's voyage of self-discovery, and the "voodoo" is the
scary magic and the unknown. Elvis even comes up with a girl friend, a Baton
Rouge lawyer. Crais liked her character and said she will recur when he figures
out how to get her to California.
The engaging Cole is a collector of Walt Disney
paraphernalia. There is a
Pinocchio clock on his wall and a Jiminy Cricket figure on his desk. The
detective, a veteran of Vietnam, retains a boyish charm that sometimes belies
the toughness inside. Actually, says Crais, "Elvis is Robert Crais. a journey
I am on. I didn't want to create a very macho and overly tough P.I. with the
prose leaden with football and boxing. I don't do that. That is exclusionary to
women. I think maybe Elvis has more of a '90s sensibility. Women tell me they
like Elvis and can relate to him. That makes me think that, as a writer, I am
doing something correctly. Joe Pike is enigmatic and I am going to keep him
that way. He's not a simple character. There has been a rumor going around
that I am writing a Joe Pike mystery. That is totally false."
The 42-year-old author will be turning in another
Cole mystery to Hyperion in
September for publication in June 1996. He says he is now on a book-a-year
"I am very pleased with how my career is going.
Hyperion (a new publisher for
him) is committed to me. They strongly believe I will reach a broad market."
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