The Promise (a book review)

The Promise
Spoiler: there’s more than one promise in this book!

I love mystery novels. There, I said it. But I’m not a huge fan of the current fad whereby an author with an established series creates a new series based on a new character and then immediately starts writing cross-over novels between the two. Sometimes it works; sometimes the author isn’t as creative as they think they are (I blame comic books).

In the case of Robert Crais’ The Promise, it falls somewhere in the middle. But first, let’s talk about the good stuff, because there is plenty to around.

Synopsis: Los Angeles private detective Elvis Cole has been hired to find a missing person. His employer has reason to believe that Cole will find some information at a house in Echo Park. But when he arrives, chaos erupts, leaving him as a possible suspect in a murder. To make matters worse, a cachet of explosives is discovered in the house by Scott James and his K-9 partner Maggie (from Suspect).

Is Cole’s missing person a terrorist? Who owns the house? Nothing adds up, and with so many different units working the case, everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else. To figure out who’s really who and what’s really happening, Cole and Scott will have to work together. But no one wants them to. Their careers and very lives are in danger.

There’s more to it, of course. The central mystery isn’t as compelling as other reads from Robert Crais, but he makes up for it in other ways. The conflict between Cole and James and the LAPD (and a few other parties) keep things interesting.It’s as much of a game of cat and mouse with each other as it is with the bad guys. Scott James continues to be a well-drawn character, even if the novel isn’t entirely his. And events generally have a plausible feeling to them. This all could have happened, but the public wouldn’t get the juicy details.

Where it doesn’t entirely work – that middle ground – is the need to switch between these cross-over characters. It’s sometimes jarring, considering each character is the main player in their own series. Also, Elvis is told in first person; Scott is in third. It’s a little off-kilter at times. I think suspense is often best played out from one character’s point of view. The method in this novel has the effect of making the overall plot seem really short because additional writing of the exact same events goes into each point of view.

After all that, though, the best is left for a character virtually unseen until the latter half of the story. In The Promise, whether he started out with this in mind or not, the author tackles the tricky subject of grief, and the lengths we might go to in order to resolve it. Especially when we think we have nothing else to live for.

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