The Wanted by Robert Crais - book review: The perfect showcase for an author at the top of his game

A naïve teenage boy’s part in a high-end Los Angeles burglary spree puts him into the path of two hired killers who are as clever as they are ruthless.

The Wanted by Robert Crais
The Wanted by Robert Crais

And when private investigator Elvis Cole, aided by his ex-cop sidekick, Joe Pike, is called in by the boy’s frantic mother to do some digging, they soon discover that they might just have met their match.

If you haven’t yet been introduced to Robert Crais’ quirky detective duo, Cole and Pike, then The Wanted – the incredible seventeenth novel in this thrilling series – would be a good time to string along with them as they tackle their deadliest case yet.

Before writing his first novel, Crais spent several years penning scripts for major television series like Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, Miami Vice, Quincy and L.A. Law, experience which has given him a sharp eye for fast-paced action and a fine line in rapier-sharp dialogue.

Each novel can be read as a standalone, and each is an addictive blend of devilishly good plotting, first-class writing, brilliant characterisation, dark, caustic humour, and a celebration of all those complex traits and emotions that make us human.

Here, we find the essentially compassionate and sensitive Cole and his tough, sardonic partner, Pike, caught up in a perilous cat-and-mouse game with two memorable, wisecracking assassins for whom killing is all part of the fun.

When single mother Devon Connor hires Elvis Cole, it’s because she is worried about her 17-year-old son Tyson. The boy has his problems – he’s socially awkward, obsessed with video games, and has had to change schools – but his mother fears that her sweet, nerdy son has started to change.

Tyson is flashing wads of cash, buying ultra-expensive clothes, and she has found a $40,000 Rolex watch under his bed. Suddenly very frightened that Tyson has become involved in drug dealing, Devon gets in touch with private investigator Cole and asks him to do some digging.

But the truth is devastatingly different. With two other teenagers, Alec Rickey and Amber Reed, Tyson has been responsible for a string of high-end burglaries at smart Beverly Hills homes, a crime spree that takes a deadly turn when Alec is murdered and Tyson and his girlfriend Amber disappear.

It turns out that they stole the wrong thing from the wrong man, and, determined to get it back, he has hired two killers, called Harvey and Stemms, who are smart and brutal and the best at what they do.

To even the odds, Cole brings in his friend Pike, but even the two of them together may be outmatched. The police don’t want the pair of them anywhere near the investigation, the teenagers refuse to be found, and the assassins are leaving a trail of bodies in their wake.

Pretty soon, they find out everything they need to know to track down the two missing youngsters but Harvey and Stemms are so far in front of everyone else now that they can ‘smell the kill.’

It seems nothing that Elvis or Joe can do will make any difference… and it might even get them killed.

This crime fiction at its most entertaining and page-turning best as Crais brings us a thriller that veers between graphic violence, gallows humour, and moments of great pathos and psychological insight as the suspense mounts and the bodies pile up with alarming speed.

The wickedly engaging but unnerving repartee between the terrifying but ever resourceful killers, Harvey and Stemms, is one of the dark highlights of a crime mystery that moves relentlessly towards an explosive final act.

Crais never disappoints with his superbly crafted and intelligent stories, and The Wanted is the perfect showcase for an author at the top of his game.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)