Byline: Diana Pinckney
It's not too often you see a mystery whose setting ranges from Ville
and Eunice to Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Not many stories feature punks such as Jimmie Rae Rebenack or 100-year-
old mean and hungry river turtles such as Luther.
And rare is a tale as fine as the one spun by Robert Crais in
(Hyperion, $21.95), the latest Elvis Cole adventure.
Elvis (his mom changed his name from Phillip James when he was 6, the
after she saw a concert by The King) is a private investigator in Los Angeles,
the setting of his four previous published adventures. His newest client is Jodi
Taylor, star of the top-rated television series "Songbird."
On the tube, Jodi plays the wholesome mom of a thriving small-town family,
with dreams of a singing career of her own. In real life, Jodi has no idea who
her own birth mom is. She's adopted. She's also 36, and starting to worry a
little about the finer points of her medical history. So she hires Elvis to travel
to Louisiana to find about her birth family.
"I had thought that Jodi Taylor might be pleased when I agreed to take
but she wasn't," said Elvis. "Yet she still wanted to hire me, still wanted me to
uncover the elements of her past. Since my own history was known to me, it held
no fear. I thought about how I might feel if the corridor of my birth held only closed
doors. Maybe, like Jodi Taylor, I would be afraid."
Jodi's attorney is Lucy Chenier, herself an adopted child, who is Elvis's
in Baton Rouge. After refusing to take him out for catfish, Lucy dispatches Elvis to
Ville Platte, site of Jodi's birth and adoption.
Between eating boudin and barbecue, he asks around after other women
have been pregnant 36 years ago, on the theory that pregnant women in a small town
remember one another. Eventually he latches on to Martha Guidry, the midwife.
Though she's currently obsessed with Raiding bugs to death (an endless job in south
Louisiana), Martha dredges up a few useful memories.
Meanwhile, Elvis has picked up a tail, a guy with a tall red pompadour
in a brand-new white Mustang convertible. Jimmie Ray Rebenack isn't exactly what
you'd call unobtrusive. He's not too smart, either. But he seems to have a lot of infor-
mation about Jodi's life, as well as some unsavory contacts with Cajun bad boys named
LeRoy, Rene, and crawfish-farmer-cum-money-laundry-specialist Milt Rossier. Then
there's that gigantic hungry turtle, just lurking in his crawfish pond.
The plot is complex, involving race relations in the 1960s, good ole
boys and their
rackets, illegal immigration through muddy bayous, the politics of a small-town
sheriff, tangled fragile webs of family secrets, and Jodi's real motive in sending
Elvis to investigate her life. The strands weave together to create a fascinating,
original story, featuring some of the most memorable characters to come from or
visit this state of eccentrics in quite some time.
If you are an Elvis Cole fan, you already know Joe Pike. If not, it's
time you met
him. Joe is to Elvis as Hawk is to Spencer in Robert Parker's books. He's the muscle,
the arsenal, the Rambo that Elvis (really a sensitive new-age guy at heart) can play
against. Listen to this conversation between Elvis and Lucy, who has become much
more than just another lawyer.
"The next morning Lucy and I were in the Baton Rouge airport waiting
for Joe Pike.
We had been together 28 minutes and had done a fine job of keeping our clothes on.
"When Pike's plane taxied in, she said, 'How will I recognize him?'
" 'He's six-one and he weighs right at one-ninety. He has short brown
hair and large
red arrows tattooed on the outside of each deltoid. He'll be wearing jeans and a gray
sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off and dark glasses.'
" 'How do you know what he'll be wearing?'
" 'It's what he wears.'
" 'All the time?'
" 'If it's cold, he wears a Marine Corps parka.'
"She smiled. 'And if the occasion were formal?'
" 'Think of it as consistency. Joe Pike is the most consistent person I know.' "
Robert Crais is one of the most consistently good mystery
writers I know.
"The Monkey's Raincoat" won the Anthony and Macavity awards for best
novel, and was nominated for Edgar and Shamus awards.
"Voodoo River" is even better. It's a terrific book. When you pick it
sure you have a couple of free hours, because you won't put it down until you've
finished the last page.
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