Interview with Robert Crais

Robert Crais has been publishing great mystery-thrillers for more 30 years and with his new book, The Wanted, he’s as good as ever. He consistently has mixed well-developed characters in books with good plots with excellent plot twists.

I last interviewed Crais here for MysteryPeople for a book, The Promise, where he mixed his usual protagonist, the always cool private investigator Elvis Cole and his partner Joe Pike with some new characters in a prior book and it gelled nicely.

For The Wanted it’s back to the usual set up of Cole and Pike fighting some bad guys and some good folks who have made, let’s say, bad life choices.

As the book starts a single mother hires Elvis Cole to help with her troubled son who for inexplicable reasons suddenly has lots of cash and she’s worried he’s dealing drugs. A little investigation and Cole realizes that the son and two of his friends are responsible for some high-end burglary. Gradually it becomes clear that a pair of fascinating, disturbing bad guys are on the tail of the burglary threesome. Will Cole be able to find the three and save them before they are harmed by pair? You’ll have to read to find that out.

Crais was nice enough to let me to interview him by email.

Scott Butki: Thanks for the interview. How did you come up with the story for the latest novel featuring my favorite detective duo, Pike and Cole?

Robert Crais: Lots of crime in Los Angeles these days – burglaries and home invasions are on the rise, and many of these crimes are perpetrated by teenagers and young adults.

Elvis Cole is attracted to cases where he believes he can make a real difference, and the idea of helping a single mom find out the truth of what’s going on with her son and save him is right up his alley.

SB:  I always like how you do dialogue and humor in your books. Do you think your early work writing for TV shows including “Hill Street Blues” helped you write dialogue and humor? What are other ways your TV writing help you as a novelist?

RC:  I’m just a funny guy. TV writing helped me block out a scene, visualize the action, write authentic dialogue.  It helped me to shape a story.  It helped me to see how much more I could do as a novelist.

SB:  Having written for TV – including “Miami Vice” and Cagney and Lacey, Quincy, and Baretta – I assume you pay attention to current TV shows.  What are some of your favorites and why?

RC: My taste in TV shows is all over the board. Loved “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” love “Game of Thrones” (duh!), “Stranger Things,” thought “Handmaid’s Tale” was incredible.

SB: The book deals with loyalty, unconditional love and what it means to be a parent. Is there something you hope readers take away from the story?

RC: I hope readers are entertained and connect with the characters.  Most parents have experienced the feeling of unconditional love. In this story a mother is forced to imagine the worst case scenario.  If her son has committed a terrible crime, will she still love him?  How much can a parent forgive?  

SB: Why did you decide to dedicate your book to Otto Penzler? 

RC: Otto has been a friend, fan and supporter of mine since my first book, The Monkey’s Raincoat.  In a way, all my books are dedicated to him.

SB: I enjoyed, if that’s the right word, your terrible pair of dangerous, perverse guys, Harvey and Stemms. How did you come up with those characters?

Villains need to be as fascinating and as formidable as your hero. I wanted to create “bad guys” that had real personalities, who were many-sided, and who were also interesting.  These guys, like Elvis and Joe, have history together, have shared a lot of adventures.

 

Thanks to Robert Crais for answering our questions. His new book, The Wantedis on our shelves now!

MysteryPeople Q&A: Scott Butki Interviews Robert Crais

  • Review by Scott Butki

With The Promise, Robert Crais has taken on a difficult challenge. The Promise combines two sets of characters from separate books and puts them all in a new book. I think we have all read books where authors have tried something like this and it just didn’t work. Well, good news – this one works! Crais takes K9 handler Scott James and his dog Maggie and brings them together with smartass private eye Elvis Cole and his business partner Joe Pike.

Read More »

Three Picks for November

one man's flagOne Man’s Flag by David Downing

Downing’s follow up to Jack Of Spies takes Jack McColl, agent of the newly formed British Secret Service, to India. McColl’s in deep with his friend Mahatma Gandhi and some Bengali terrorists when he gets word of a plot brewing in Ireland. Revolutionaries have possibly involving his girlfriend, Caitlin Hanley, in a plot that strikes close to home. Jack McColl is a colorful hero caught up in the rich complexities of WWI. You can find copies of One Man’s Flag on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 


The Promise by Robert Craisthe promise

Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are back! With the help of LAPD officer Scott James and his patrol dog, Maggie, from Suspect, they look into a missing persons case tied to the world of defense contractors. Few do the modern LA private eye novel like Robert Crais The Promise comes out November 10. Pre-order now!


the big book of sherlock holmes storiesThe Big Book Of Sherlock Holmes Stories edited by Otto Penzler

Perfect for the Sherlock Holmes fan. This mammoth book is packed with stories about the great detective. Authors both classic and modern including Bret Hart, Loren Estleman, and Stephen King provide straight up Holmes stories, interesting imitations, and funny parodies of one of the world’s most popular literary characters. You can find copies of The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Q&A with Robert Crais

robert crais

Robert Crais is one of those rare authors who is both a fan and a critic. Part of this comes from the fact that he is constantly evolving and changing as an author. His latest, Suspect, is a stand alone that deals with a cop who lost his partner and a Marine-trained German Shepard who lost her handler. They’re put together in the LAPD K-9 unit. We caught up with Bob to ask him a few questions about the book and writing from a canine perspective.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: What’s the key to writing a dog as a main character?

ROBERT CRAIS: I’ve always been a dog guy.  I have cats, too, and I love them, but I’ve had dogs since I was a boy.  I lost my last dog fifteen years ago, a big Akita I had for twelve years.  He was my boy, through and through, only, thing is, when he passed–and he died in my arms, me blubbering like a baby–I was never able to get another dog.  The idea of replacing him felt disloyal.  All these years have passed, and I began thinking about the bond we had.  I started thinking, jeez, am I crazy?  So I began reading about the special relationship people have with dogs, and dogs have with people, and why dogs are the way they are.  Maybe I was doing all this to heal, but pretty soon I had Maggie, and knew I had to write about her.

MP: So much of this story relies on the senses, whether it be Maggie’s sense of smell or both she and Scott working through their PTSD. Did you find yourself really working that writing muscle to do this? Was it a challenge?

RC: It’s always a challenge to write about a character you haven’t written about before, and to make that character true and believable.  I did a lot of research on dogs, both by reading the available literature, observing, and asking questions of experts. I wanted to write about a real dog — and was careful not to anthropomorphize her.  I didn’t want Maggie to be a cartoon.  I wanted my portrayal of her to accurately reflect how dogs perceive the world and yes — that was a challenge.

MP: This was a story that could have been maudlin or precious, but you avoided that at every step. Were you aware of sidestepping over sentimental or manipulative pitfalls or did the story just flow naturally?

RC: While researching the nature of the human-canine relationship, I realized that the bonds between dogs and their human handlers were far closer than most people realize.  It’s the purity of that bond that not only inspired me to write this book, but also helped me to avoid being maudlin or precious. When something is true you don’t have to force it.  You don’t have to “sell” it and manipulate the reader.  You just have to tell the story authentically from your heart.

MP: You did some work with the K-9 unit for the book. What surprised you the most from your research?

RC: I was most impressed by the intensity and dedication of the handlers, and the difficulty of the job they do.  Being a police K9 handler is not a job; it is a way of life.   The dog lives with the handler, hence, the handler is always on duty and on call.  The training never stops.  They train their K9 partners every day, and the complexity of the training is astonishing.  This is mandatory because of the difficult nature of their job–the handler must maintain precise control of their dog in complex, high-stress situations.  The dogs are trained to respond appropriately, even when they are off-leash and operating out of the handler’s sight.

MP: What do the stand-alone novels do for you?

RC: Stand-alones give me the opportunity to create new characters that hopefully my readers will love.  Writing this book opened surprising doors for me.  It helped me heal in a lot of ways.  I have a horrible weakness of falling in love with my characters and now I have Maggie and Scott to add to the list.

MP: Every action sequence in this book pops. How do you approach action when writing them?

RC: The same way I approach any other scene.  I never include an action scene simply to have gratuitous action.  If the evolution of the story leads to an action scene, this is because the rising emotional tension finally explodes into violence.  Explosions are sharp, declarative, and dangerous.   The concussion should rock the reader–and the writer.

Mystery Fiction Goes to the Dogs

It seems that every dog is having its day in mystery fiction. The genre that was ruled by cats as animal protagonists (really, a cat’s going to care if you’re murdered?) has been putting man’s best friend in the spotlight. After the success of Spencer Quinn’s Chet & Bernie series, we’ve seen James Rollins add an Army dog to his Sigma Team and even cat mystery practitioner Rita Mae Brown has gone to the dogs with her Mags Rogers series. Now bestselling author Robert Crais contributes to canine crime fiction with Suspect.

The hero dog here is Maggie, a marine trained German Shepherd. We get an intense introduction to her when she loses her handler, Pete, to a sniper in Afghanistan. She looks at the both of them as a pack with Pete as the alpha. Without the alpha, there is no pack and Maggie is nothing.

The next chapter gives us another hero losing a partner, LAPD patrolman Scott James. Scott and fellow uniform, Stephanie, get involved in a violent and well written gunfight. He watches her go down before he’s shot. Badly wounded and unable to remember many details of that night, he blames himself for his partner’s death.

Obsessed with finding the culprits, Scott chooses to stay on the force, but he doesn’t want a partner. This leads him to the K-9 unit and Maggie, who is about to be returned since she has not worked out as a police dog. Scott sees a kindred spirit and asks to be given two weeks to work with her. With the help of a female detective who caught his case, working through the trauma of that night, and Maggie, Scott starts putting the pieces together.

Suspects is best when dealing with the dog side of things. Crais gives us an inside look at the K-9 unit. We get some of the techniques used to train a dog to react to certain smells, take down a perp, and most important, keep calm in a tense situation. He also looks at what dogs do to an individual, what we project on them, and the gaps they fill. When the unit’s hard-ass commander, Leland, gives a speech to his trainees about dog,s he seems to be saying more about what he thinks of humans:

“These dogs are not machines, goddamnit. They are alive! They are loving , feeling warm blooded creatures of God, and they will love you with all their hearts! They will love you when your wives and husbands sneak behind your backs. They will love you when your ungrateful misbegotten children piss on your graves! They will see and witness your greatest shame, and will not judge you! These dog’s will be the truest and best partners you can ever hope to have, and they will give their lives for you. And all they ask, all they want or need, all it costs YOU to get ALL of that is a simple word of kindness. Goddamnit to hell, the ten best men I know aren’t worth the worst dogs here…”

Crais does a strong job of writing Maggie’s perspective. He avoids giving her human traits, which makes her believable. By emphasizing her sense of smell, he puts us in her point of view and inside her thought process. By never veering away from the fact she is a dog, she ends up being the most humane character. We root for Scott to become her worthy alpha.

Suspect‘s set-up could have led to an over sentimental or precious novel. Crais’ straightforward prose style avoids this. He develops emotion through action and dialogue and knows just when to temper a situation with humor. With  this lack of manipulation and a liberal use of gunfire, Suspect proves to be a unique and solid take on the boy-and-his-dog story.