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Book Review: The First Rule by Robert Crais

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Vengeance has a name, and the name is Joe Pike. Robert Crais’s new action/thriller centers on the enigmatic Joe Pike, probably the toughest man you’ll ever meet, and the only one you’ll need to cover your back. This is the second book to feature Pike, after The Watchman, and he takes a lot of center stage action in L. A. Requiem, a major turning point in Crais’s writing career.

I have to admit, sitting down and reading this novel reminded me a lot of the old westerns I grew up on. Or in Tombstone when Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp states that he’s coming back and Hell is riding with him. When I first heard the plot mentioned, I couldn’t wait. These last few months have ticked off slowly till the book’s release.

But it’s here now, baby, and what a rush. When Joe Pike’s good friend Frank Meyer is gunned down in cold blood, even the L. A. cops are worried about who’s gonna tell Joe Pike. Pike has a reputation that’s been well earned over the years. He wears red arrows tattooed on his biceps that point forward because Joe Pike doesn’t back up or back down. Ever.

I know a lot of people who haven’t read Crais’s books might read that last bit and go, yeah, right. But we fans know. Joe Pike might be cut from the same cloth as Batman and truly near superhero standards, but we just don’t care. We can’t get enough of this guy. If the world was truly the way it was supposed to be, guys like Joe Pike and Elvis Cole, World’s Greatest Detective, would exist.

I believe in them. It’s a choice I’m comfortable with, and even a little proud of.

Crais doesn’t merely give his readers a vengeance story that could have been carved out of the Old Testament, though. He also gives us a full-on package of East European criminal organizations shot through with history, mystery, and sudden belly-clenching twists and turns. Even as complete a Crais reader as I am, I still didn’t see some of the surprises he had in store on this one. I was hooked as much on who was doing what to who as I was on Pike handing out retribution.

I also liked the ATF agent Crais introduces in the book, and I have to wonder if she’ll be back for more.

The prose is stripped down, lean and hard and merciless — and different from an Elvis Cole novel. We view Pike more from the outside even when we’re in his point of view. And I’m okay with that. Pike is a very private person, and I like the mystique he manages to keep even while on center stage.

This book might not be for everyone regarding the brutal nature of the crimes and the extremes Pike goes to, but the action is dead on and very representative of what these Eastern European crime syndicates do.

I had a blast with this one, regret that it’s already over, and am looking forward to the next Joe Pike novel next year.

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