Thursday, July 04, 2013
"They Are Suspect"
Scott James was an up-and-coming LAPD officer, bound for great things in the department. Maggie was a three-year old, 85 pound black-and-tan German shepherd dog - officially, Military Working Dog Maggie T415. As a result of tragedies on different sides of the world, they were brought together as partners in LAPD's K-9 unit. In those tragedies, they each lost their partners - in Maggie's case, Corporal Pete Gibbs; in Scott's, Officer Stephanie Anders. Neither has fully recovered from their injuries, or from the sudden, traumatic death of their partners. They are suspect.
Scott and Maggie are the primary characters of Robert Crais' "Suspect," which - hold on to your hats - is the best book that Crais has written since "L.A. Requiem," his 1999 masterpiece. Crais is best known for his books featuring Elvis Cole and Joe Pike (some with Elvis in the lead, others with Pike), but he's written other stand-alone books when he saw the need to give Elvis and Joe a rest. But although the other stand-alones were entertaining, "Suspect" is the first that in quality stands with the Cole/Pike novels, and in some cases, above them.
Crais did his homework for this one, because his portrayal of Maggie gives her fully equal footing as a character. After a while, you stop thinking of her as a dog, and just consider her one of the main characters of the book - one with emotions, one with intelligence, and one with fierce loyalty to her "pack" - in this instance, Scott. Maggie is the most important character of the book, because if Crais wasn't able to make her believable and sympathetic, he's got no book - it just wouldn't work.
Which isn't to say that Scott James is a slouch. He is as determined as he is damaged, determined to find the men who killed his partner and left him for dead. And in the course of trying to solve that mystery, he connects with other detectives that Crais has drawn as fully-fleshed out characters - most prominently, Joyce Cowly. But the most memorable supporting character is Sgt. Leland, who loves his officers almost as much as he loves his dogs - and he makes it very clear to his recruits that the dogs are to be treated as equals, deserving of love and respect.
Crais is a master of spinning a tale that builds in suspense over the course of a book, to a point where you're left almost breathless when all of the threads come together. In "Suspect," Scott and Maggie are dealing with some very worth adversaries - smart (if corrupt) men who instinctively know how to stay one step ahead of the investigation.
And when those threads do come together, and all of the primary characters are together in a life-or-death situation for all of them, the tension and emotion are almost unbearable. It's a brilliant moment for Crais, in a career full of them. This is great work, and the best book I've read in 2013.