Novelist Robert Crais was on the Today Show today — thank god he didn't get interviewed by Ann Curry, which would be like Einstein having a conversation with a talking pony! — pitching his new book, The Forgotten Man. Click on the link and go buy a bunch of copies.
Crais is hands-down the best "mystery" novelist working today. How good? The best thing I could say about Crais would be to borrow the quote Ross Macdonald used about Raymond Chandler: “Chandler wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence.”
I mean, I hate Los Angeles, even though I go there so much I can navigate the damned freeways. But when I read Crais' novels, I see LA as this great wounded beast of a city, half-crazed with pain, doomed and in some strange way utterly noble. Elvis Cole and his lethal sidekick Joe Pike are the perfect pair for 21st Century LA, trodding Philip Marlowe's mean streets neither mean nor afraid, but armored by their sense of honor.
Crais is also stand-up. He was a very successful television writer when he started the Elvis Cole novels, which he has relentlessly refused to sell to the movies despite rumors of staggering pricetags attached to such sales. The Cole novels, as he reiterated to Al Roker (who actually seemed to have read the books!) this AM, are the work of his life, and the work of his life is not for sale. Pretty amazing, considering your average author (probably myself included) would sell his or her child's virginity to Hannibal Lector for a shot at Hollywood. For a plug on the Today Show, he or she would probably kick in some fava beans and a decent chianti.
I fell in briefly with Crais through one of those bizarre coincidences that seems define the outer perimeters of my haphazard life. The character of Joe Pike is the weapons expert, a Vietnam vet who owns a gun store and lives in a Spartan apartment above the store. He is taciturn in the extreme, habitually wears Ray-Ban aviators, grey sweatshirts with the sleeves cut off and jeans, has red lightning bolts tattooed on each delt and is as silent and deadly as a cobra after the third Starbucks.
When I first Fell Into the Rabbit Hole, I hung around with a weapons expert just back from Vietnam, who owned a gun store and lived in a Spartan apartment above the store, who didn't talk much at all, habitually wore Ray-Ban aviators, gret sweatshirts with the sleeves cut off and jeans, had lightning bolt tattoos on each arm and was one of the most profoundly dangerous people I've ever met. He introduced me to rappelling, det cord, lock picking, weird beer, M-16s, and, in general, a world I'd only dimly imagined. He taught me how to set booby traps to trip up cops in simulations, and we once pissed on a famous SWAT team from the roof of a building we'd "seized." Not surprisingly, one day he dropped off the grid.
He WAS NOT Joe Pike, but I have to say the first time I read an Elvis Cole novel you could have knocked me over with the proverbial 5.56 hollowpoint. I told Crais that I had apparently apprenticed with Joe Pike, or a reasonable fascimile. After a couple of beers, he concurred that truth was often stranger than publicity, and he told me how he'd once quit a lucrative job writing for a science fiction television show when some pissy assistant editor said, "Oh, no dophin would EVER say that!"
He also wrote the novel Hostage, now a movie opening in a week or so with Bruce Willis starring. It is NOT an Elvis Cole novel! Kick ass, dude!
And yes, I've got my trashy colors back!