Title: The Monkey’s Raincoat
Rating: 3 Stars
This was my first exposure to the Elvis Coles / Joe Pike crime series. I usually start at the first one of a series, but I think that this is a mistake to do and that I should probably learn from it. Authors are usually pretty good at making sure to bring new readers up to speed in subsequent books if the reader is starting in the middle of the series. It’s obviously in their best interest to do so.
The first novel of a series is quite often a weaker candidate. First of all, there has to be a bit more exposition just to get the story rolling. Also, the author often is still figuring out / fleshing out the characters, if not the actual approach to writing.
In the case of this series, I should have followed my gut and started with L.A. Requiem. That is generally acknowledged to be where Crais throws off the straitjacket of conventional detective prose and starts to discover his own style.
So, I’ll reserve final judgment on the series until I read that one.
Now, for The Monkey’s Raincoat, it’s a perfectly serviceable detective story, if somewhat derivative. It clearly owes a debt to Robert B Parker’s Spenser / Hawk series.
This was written in the late 1980’s and it shows it. It’s written in the mode of old school crime fiction, where you have a smart ass detective who has a way with women, gets in hot water with the cops, and kills with impunity.
Elvis Coles, a Vietnam veteran, is a quirky, yoga loving, smart ass of a detective. His partner, Joe Pike, is a sociopath that would normally be a scary and dangerous person except for his high code of ethics and devotion to Coles. Interestingly enough, Dennis Lehane also owes a debt to Robert B Parker, and his sociopathic sidekick in his Kenzie / Gennaro series (named Bubba) doesn’t really even have a recognizable code of ethics (although is blindly devoted to Kenzie and Gennaro, thereby putting him kind of in the ranks of the good guys).
The story here is that a woman’s husband and child have disappeared. She hires Coles to find them.
It’s pretty clear that Crais is, at this point, still discovering the art of writing crime fiction. The plot is pretty linear. Coles finds a clue, investigates it, whereby he discovers another clue, which he investigates, and rinse and repeat. There’s not much evidence of dead ends or frustrations. He pretty much just works the case and things fall into place for him.
In many ways, even more so since it’s set in Los Angeles, this feels like an updated Chandler story.
Although he’s into Jiminy Cricket and yoga, Coles is a tough guy who pretty much never loses a fight. Tough guys go up against him, he gets the drop on them and hurts them, usually with a smart ass quip along the way.
He beds a woman for no obvious purpose. It does not advance the plot. In fact, after it happens, it’s pretty much never referred to again and things carry forward just as they were. It was almost as if the sex box in the plot outline needed to be checked.
As is typical of gumshoes, Coles has an uneasy relationship with the police. The lower echelon (Sargent or below) have a begrudging respect for him while the Lieutenants or special operations guys want nothing more then to bust his balls.
Of course, the police tell him to stay out of it, and of course, he doesn’t, and of course, he ends up saving the day.
Coles kills many bad guys and seems to suffer no consequences from it, let alone express any emotional range, growth, or remorse over killing. The police basically just give him the equivalent of a noogie on the head before letting him continue on with his business.
I know that this review is reading snarky. I did enjoy reading it. It’s just that I’ve been reading mysteries pretty much my entire life and in all honesty, I’ve been on this ride before. I enjoyed the ride and I’ll do it again at some point, but there just weren’t any surprises in it.