Monday, August 11, 2008

Chasing Darkness - Robert Crais

Lionel Byrd is found dead in his home, apparently of suicide, when Los Angeles' law enforcement officers are evacuating people due to fires in the area. The death in and of itself wouldn't be alarm-setting, but the photo album full of pictures of dead women is a problem.

Lionel had been accused of murdering one of the women, Yvonne Bennett, in the book a few years earlier. Elvis Cole found evidence that set him free. Now the Los Angeles police department is saying that Elvis got two more women killed by helping to set Lionel free in the first place - the two women murdered after Yvonne.

Elvis is SURE that the evidence he found three years ago was legitimate, and something hinky is going on. When more oddities start popping up, Elvis sets out to prove what actually happened once and for all.

ELVIS IS BACK! ELVIS IS BACK! ELVIS IS BACK! Do you really need to read any more?? :)

Crais is back in true form with Chasing Darkness. The best statement I ever heard made about Robert Crais was, "Crais on a bad day is better than most writers on their best days." Let me assure you that Chasing Darkness WASN'T a bad day!

From page one, Crais starts building up a theme of corruption in reality. There are evils destroying the world around Elvis. First the fires are burning his city. Then he receives news that his exterminator has found termites at his house, corrupting the foundation. A ransacking break-in even results in Elvis' Mickey Mouse phone being broken. Crais has to glue him back together, but you can still see the cracks...the damage. And the corruption continues to build up to the ultimate level of law enforcement and the government.

As is the case with any Crais novel, the plot constantly feeds you twists and turns. It is pointless to try to predict the ending to a Crais novel because he'll get you. You are down to the last twenty pages or so and you know he's leading you down the final path...the one to the answers, and you know he's fed you enough information to figure out the "who done it" and then IT TWISTS AGAIN! GOTCHA!!

Crais is a master of the character. Have you ever noticed the theme with my reading preferences? One must have great characters for me to really connect. Crais' characters always manage to take up residence inside my head for days, sometimes weeks, after I've finished reading one of his books. They are so real for me that they become a part of my world in a sense. No matter how many of Crais' books I read, I never tire of hearing about Joe Pike. And something as simple as "[Pike's] machine picked up with a beep. Pike doesn't have an outgoing message. You just get the beep" says oceans about Joe. He didn't play a very big role in this novel, but when he is present, he fills the room.

Crais never needs a lot of words to build a character. John Chen in all his paranoia, returns in this novel and Crais describes him: "Chen was tall and skinny, and watching him get out of the wagon was like watching a question mark unfold. He studied the surrounding buildings as if he were checking for spies, then hurried to my car." Holy Cow! Who doesn't conjure up a vivid image from a description like that?

Crais also has the knack for weaving tone into the novel at all stages of development. When Elvis goes to visit Debra Repko's family the tone is very somber, chilling even; he's looking at a picture of Debra in their living room:

Here they were, the Repkos, upscale and educated, as close as you could come to a Norman Rockwell family portrait except that one of them had been murdered. Scratch Debra from the painting. Draw Xs over her eyes.

The photos throughout the book play a very important role. Early on Crais emphasizes their importance in a discussion Starkey is having with Elvis:

'A picture isn't a part of the experience like a more traditional trophy - it's a composition outside the experience. The photographer chooses the angle. He chooses what will be in the picture, and what won't. If the picture is a world, then the photographer is the god of that world.'

I didn't see this statement's importance until I had finished the book. But Crais was telling us early and upfront, Elvis is seeing what the "photographer" wants him to see. No more, no less. And the "photographer" is altering reality by doing that. And that leads to questioning what exactly "reality" really is. The Repko's live a reality of belief that Elvis is responsible for the death of their sister. That's their reality. They don't know any different because that's the picture they've been given. How long do we walk around convinced of a "reality" only to learn, it's only our vantage point; it isn't the whole truth? But Elvis also sees himself as having some control over that reality, too. He ends the novel by saying, "Maybe this is why I do what I do. I chase the darkness to make room for the light." More light in a picture sure does change the effect, doesn't it? You almost wonder if Crais isn't also thinking of himself as he's writing this. After all, he chooses the picture we the readers see.

I found Crais allusions to The Wizard of Oz very fitting for this theme. They played right into the idea of reality and what one sees and believes. He's another author who doesn't waste a word when he's writing. It all works toward the theme of the book. Is it any wonder I had to finish this book in one day?

Chasing Darkness is another stellar performance from Robert Crais.


le0pard13 July 17, 2009 at 1:08 AM  

My apologies for posting a comment so late. I've placed it here, Jen. Thanks for understanding

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