In Robert Crais' fifteenth book of the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series (18th book overall), he dives head first into the timely subject of illegal immigration. But instead of attacking this subject in the way we're most accustomed, he examines it at a new angle.
Bajadores are criminals who feed on other criminals. Coyotes help guide the immigrants across American borders, often for astronomical sums of money - astronomical to the people asking for their help anyway. These are mostly poor, destitute immigrants looking for a better way of life. They'll sacrifice whatever they possibly can. The bajadores attack the coyotes when they are leading their groups to safety. They kill the coyotes, kidnap the immigrants and hold them for ransom until their families can no longer pay. Then they kill the immigrants. Jack and Krista, a first generation Hispanic-American, inadvertently find themselves in the midst of one of these kidnappings. Corralled up with the immigrants, the bajadores haul off the young couple to be ransomed to their families.
Krista's mother initially thinks her daughter is pulling a prank on her, but when the situation seems like more than a prank, she does what few families in this situation dare to do, she goes in search of help. Having read a newspaper article about the "World's Greatest Detective," she calls on Elvis Cole. But the situation escalates when Elvis also finds himself captured by the bajadores. Joe Pike and mercenary pal, Jon Stone, race time and an intricate network of deceit to find Elvis before the bajadores kill him and move on.
TAKEN is an emotionally charged novel; I've come to expect nothing less from Crais. While Crais avoids the gratuitous gore that others might use to evoke a reaction in the reader, he also doesn't sugar coat the horrors. His approach is far more effective in that it strikes the readers' hearts instead of their gag reflexes. To experience the utter disregard for human life and the disdain for fellow man leaves scars on your soul. There is no doubt that the sociopaths of TAKEN are the stuff true nightmares of made of.
Crais' continuing theme of family is once again strong in TAKEN. The most obvious illustration is the bajadores abuse of strong family ties. The non-traditional family form is seen in Jack's relationship with his guardian. And a highly symbolic car-washing scenes reinforce the bonds between Elvis and Joe. While family ties leave people vulnerable, they also infuse those same people with extraordinary determination.
Stone's return to the fold is most welcome. Crais continues to flush out his character, making him a more integral part of the Cole/Pike world. And his humor lightens the heaviness of the subject matter. I, for one, hope to see more of Stone in the future and wouldn't mind Stone taking the reins of his own book.
The one element of TAKEN that I wrestled with and mulled over for quite awhile was the sequencing. Crais plots this novel out of time sequence, dancing back and forth to before and after Elvis is abducted. I found it distracting at times, thinking something didn't fit correctly in the sequence and trying to go back and confirm. But after thinking about my reactions to this approach, I realized it also left me in a discombobulated state: not being sure of time or place. And that mimicked the state the captives experienced being locked in rooms with no view to the outside world, no grasp on time or place. So in the end, I think that technique achieved its goal.
TAKEN illustrates everything that is exceptional about Robert Crais' writing. If after four years of my touting his skill you still have not experienced Crais. Now is the time. If you're a Craisie like me, TAKEN will not disappoint.
TAKEN is available tomorrow from Putnam in hardcover (ISBN: 9780399158278) and from Brilliance Audio, narrated by Luke Daniels, on audiobook (ISBN: 9781423375654).