Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book Review: "Taken" by Robert Crais

While it's always exciting to discover new writers and unique literary voices, there's something tremendously comforting about reading another installment of a regular series of books. Having familiarity with specific characters, their habits and motivations, and revisiting a particular setting is kind of like visiting an old friend. Obviously, you hope that each book in a series is somewhat distinctive, but some of the enjoyment and excitement comes from returning to people and places you've been.

I've read all of Robert Crais' books featuring wiseass private detective Elvis Cole and his stoic, steadfast, strong, and sensitive sidekick, Joe Pike, and I absolutely love these characters. I like the way Crais has been switching back and forth over the last few years between allowing Cole and Pike to anchor alternating books, although each features in the other's stories. The loyalty and chemistry between the two, as well as Crais' ability to create tension and terrific action, make all of his books enjoyable, quick reads.

As Taken begins, young couple Krista Morales and Jack Berman are visiting the site of an old plane crash in the desert near Rancho Mirage, CA when they disappear. When Krista's mother, Nita, a successful business owner who recently revealed to Krista that she came to the U.S. illegally as a young child, receives a phone call from Krista demanding money, she thinks that this is a scheme Krista and Jack have cooked up to run off and get married. Nita hires Cole to find Krista and bring her home—but Cole finds out the situation is far worse than anyone imagined.

Krista and Jack were swept up in a gunfight between human traffickers and "bajadores," criminals who prey on other criminals. The two are mistaken for illegal aliens and become pawns in a scheme to extort money from immigrants' family members. The scheme, which leads to the death of many immigrants from all over the world each year, is masterminded by Syrian gangster Ghazi al-Diri and involves a deadly Korean gang as well. When Cole tries to infiltrate al-Diri's operation in an effort to rescue Krista and Jack backfires, Pike and his friend, mercenary Jon Stone, must find him before it's too late. But that's not as easy as it sounds, as Jack has a powerful relative who's searching for him as well.

This book really reads more like a movie, as it switches narration between Jack and Krista, Elvis, Pike, and Jon Stone, and ratchets up the action fairly quickly. Cole is slightly less sarcastic than usual (and in fact, seems a little less of a presence in this book than he normally does), but Pike is at his loyal best. Because of the nature of the plot, Cole and Pike don't interact much, which I missed as well. But Crais' knack for telling a story that grips you quickly remains intact.

If you've never read Robert Crais' books before, I'd encourage you to give him a try. And if you're a fan, while Taken might not be one of the strongest in the Elvis Cole series, it's still great to be back amidst Elvis and Joe Pike.

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