Monday, January 3, 2011

The Sentry - Robert Crais

First line: "Monday, 4:28 A.M., the narrow French Quarter room was smoky with cheap candles that smelled of honey."

Joe Pike's only mistake was stopping to put air in the tires of his Jeep. Had he bypassed the gas station that day, his life would be completely different. Instead Joe noticed a couple of gang bangers assaulting a sandwich shop owner and went over to his defense. Joe promises the owner's niece that he will make sure the bangers don't return. So when the shop is vandalized with animal entrails and goat heads, Joe sets out on a mission. That mission is heightened when the owner and his niece disappear. It soon becomes clear that the sandwich shop owner and his niece aren't what they appeared to be, but Joe made a promise and regardless of appearances, he will keep his promise.

I approach each new Robert Crais book with trepidation. My biggest fear is the book that loses momentum in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series. THE SENTRY is not that book. The plot is explosive out of the gate; it kept me engaged for the entire 300 pages. Half of me wanted to turn the pages quickly; the plot demanded it of me. And the other half of me wanted to savor each page as Joe Pike's layers continued to be peeled away and his relationship to Elvis Cole took on new depth and meaning. Crais shares with the reader:

"Not the likeliest of pairings, Pike being so quiet and remote, Cole being one of those people who thought he was funny, but they were more alike than most people knew."
As Crais shares more of Joe in the novels, those who have followed the series find that to be true. And that fact is developed further in each subsequent book. That being said, it should also be mentioned that "developing" Joe's character doesn't mean changing Joe's character. The strong, solemn warrior is as present as ever:
"'You are making a mistake. You think you're talking to some pretty-boy Mexican, but you are talking to La Eme. We are two hundred thousand strong. You should wait like I say. You don't want to go to war with us.'

Pike waited him out, letting the pressure of his silence build. When Azzara finally spoke again his voice showed a strain Pike found curious.

'Are we clear on this? Do you get it?'

Pike said nothing.

'Do. You. Get. It?'

'You don't understand.'

'What? What don't I understand?'

'War is what I do.'"
Crais' dialogue is immaculate. The tone of the scene comes through; the development of the characters is stronger than any direct description could be. And not one dialogue tag is necessary to accomplish that.

Likewise his prose echos for the reader as though Crais is reading it off into the canyon behind Cole's A-frame house:
"Then the cat growled, somewhere to his right and below on the slope. It started low, and spiraled louder like a terrible war cry until it filled the canyon with an anguished wail as if the cat was in pain. Cole thought it was the cat. He was pretty sure it was the cat."
Joe and Elvis will always remain Crais' focus in this series - just imagine if he'd have killed Joe in THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT like he originally planned - but as Crais once mentioned, he creates every character as if it could have its own book. Daniel, the antagonist in THE SENTRY, is just such a character. Despite being the villain, I wanted to know more about Daniel and would read a book Crais wrote just about him. Crais doesn't save all the good stuff for the good guys.

I do admit that I missed Carol Starkey. She doesn't make any appearance this go round. But I suppose it's hard to pack all the brilliant dialogue, strong emotion, superb character development, heart-pounding plot AND Carol Starkey into every book.

Raymond Chandler is quoted as saying, "When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance it becomes literature. That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be a perfection of control over the movement of a story similar to the control a great pitcher has over the ball.” THE SENTRY is evidence that Crais has surpassed that level of intensity. Don't miss THE SENTRY.

THE SENTRY is available January 11th from G.P. Putnam's Sons (ISBN: 978-0-399-15707-3). It will also be available on audiobook from Brilliance Audio (ISBN: 978-1-423-37558-6).


Jenn's Bookshelves January 4, 2011 at 8:38 AM  

What? I had no idea Crais planned on killing Pike in MONKEY'S RAINCOAT! I'm glad he changed his mind. I'm slowly working my way through the previous books in this series but still plan on starting THE SENTRY this weekend. You've turned me into a "Crais-y" Jen!

Jen Forbus January 5, 2011 at 6:00 PM  

There's always room for more Craisies, Jenn!

We're all very thankful RC changed his mind about killing Joe. Can you imagine where Elvis would be if he HAD?

jskewes May 15, 2011 at 8:37 AM  

Hi Jenn
I am a longtime RC reader, started with Monkey's Raincoat and have read everything since. I am afraid though that he is in a rut. I am of the opinion that his books are like Jonh Denver's hair - or James Bond's Aston Martin. Elvis Cole needs to burn the A-frame, the yellow Vet need to be stolen, crash Joe's jeep..
He needs to set his people into uncharted waters and let them grow. Each new story is like another TV episode.
Other that, he is a good craftsman, he just needs a new editor, one that will let him be a real writer.

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