If you’ve followed my reading recently, it’s no secret I’ve been enjoying Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole books. Somehow, I started with book three, Lullaby Town, perhaps because it was the first book in the series with an above four-star average. Thank goodness I did, because what a difference five years makes in personal changes and skill. Crais’ first book, The Monkey’s Raincoat, is full of one P.I. trope after another, with a 1980s plot ripped off from Miami Vice, and characters created with the depth of pop psychology from Donahue.
We begin in Elvis’ office, where he’s busy staring at his Pinocchio clock. Ellen Lang arrives, best friend dragging her through the door. Ellen’s husband, Mort, is missing, and even more importantly, her son. It becomes rapidly apparent that Ellen is essentially an abused wife, psychologically if nothing else. Her friend, Janet, is technically there to support her, but badgers, eye-rolls, and criticizes as she tries to get her to answer questions. Elvis wisecracks from the start, much to the confusion of Ellen and the annoyance of Joe, as well as Reader Carol. Elvis somewhat unwillingly takes the case, later asking around and discovering Mort has a girlfriend on the side. Not long after, Ellen and Mort’s home is tossed, requiring Elvis to come to the rescue and wisecrack with the cops. When Mort is found dead, the case suddenly becomes even more serious–but not so serious that Elvis can’t take time out from protecting to have sex with the best friend.
I hate to expound too much further at the risk of spoilers, but these details barely made it to short-term storage. As Elvis investigates, he learns about a shadey co-worker at the studios and a recent party they all attended, thrown by a famous personality and former top matador. In true villain fashion, he and Elvis have a dramatic moment where they size up each other’s… egos. Ellen disappears and Elvis keeps trying to call up Joan to offer support, but she’s totally frosty to him. This will make it okay for when Elvis goes on to sleep with other women. There’s a little detecting, a little lying to the cops, stakeouts, a shoot-out or two, and a miraculous makeover courtesy of a supportive dude. Hurrah!
Joe Pitt is introduced, but in his case, he hasn’t become the completely taciturn individual in later books. It’s kind of a nice change for his character. The cat is also introduced and is appropriately cranky. There’s a nice surprise twist at the end, but now that I think about it, it doesn’t square in the least with the earlier characterization(s).
Overall, it was diverting, if a bit eyerolling. Unless you have time in your life to be a series completionist, I’d generally advise skipping this and starting at Lullaby Town instead. It isn’t until that book five, Voodoo River, that an overarching emotional plot begins. I plan to have my mom start at that one, but I’ll go on to the next in true completionist fashion.
It’s a solid four on the oink scale. Skip unless you feel forgiving, because Crais will go on to do much better than this.