Reviews: Dark Days for L.A. Detective; Thrill Ride with New Jersey Cop

Article excerpt

"Chasing Darkness"

by Robert Crais

(Simon and Schuster, $25.94)

Guilt isn't an emotion that Elvis Cole is used to when it comes to his clients. He's an insightful private detective whose cases often take him to L.A.'s underbelly, but they ultimately end successfully.

The apparent suicide of a man changes Elvis' perception of himself and drives the hard-charging plot of "Chasing Darkness." Three years ago, Elvis proved that Lionel Byrd did not murder a prostitute. Now, incriminating evidence found with Byrd's body suggests that not only did he kill that woman, but she was the first of seven victims. Could the self-proclaimed "world's greatest detective" have been that wrong?

Crais' 12th Elvis Cole tale (and his 15th novel) is one of his most plot-driven. From its opening scenes as a brush fire threatens another L.A. neighborhood to its tense finale, "Chasing Darkness" never lags.

Nor does his skill at character development waver. Crais continues to delve beneath Elvis' smart-mouth persona and draw out more of Joe Pike, his enigmatic partner. But Crais also effectively draws in recurring supporting characters to enhance the plot's vibe such as former bomb expert Carol Starkey (Demolition Angel) and forensics expert John Chen, whose paranoia is trumped only by his greed.

"Hell Hole,"

by Chris Grabenstein

(St. Martin's Minotaur, $24.95)

The wars in the Gulf and Bosnia have made a new generation acutely aware of soldiers' heroism. But, as Chris Grabenstein shows in his highly entertaining "Hell Hole," heroism can be co-opted by politicians and any coward can pretend to be brave.

The serious, by-the-book John Creepak is a real hero who helped save lives and was honored for his bravery during his tour as a military police officer. Now he's a regular cop, serving in the resort town of Sea Haven, N.J., with his younger partner, the wise- cracking Danny Boyle. The two don't believe a young corporal, fresh from the Iraqi battlefield, committed suicide in a rest stop. Yet the soldier's squad, who are in a party-hearty mood at a local beach house, and a pompous senator are eager to wrap up the investigation. Classified information, a band of dumb thieves, a drug dealer and a soldier who brags too much about his heroics provide a trail.

Grabenstein excels again at weaving a serious plot about people traumatized by violence with a sometimes light approach and well- placed humor. "Hell Hole" -- named after an amusement park ride, like his other novels -- moves at a brisk pace as Grabenstein also dissects two lousy fathers and the bonds formed by soldiers.

The relationship between John and Danny, how each grows and learns from each other, continues to be the heart of Grabenstein's four novels.

It's not officially the summer without a visit to the New Jersey shore with Grabenstein.

"South of Hell,"

by P.J. Parrish

(Pocket Star Books, $7.99)

Hell is a place that private detective Louis Kincaid knows well, but he also had hoped never to return to this aptly named little Michigan town situated a little south of Ann Arbor.

But a call from a cop re-opening a years-old case involving a missing woman jolts Louis out of his comfortable life near Sanibel, Fla. New complications have surfaced in the cold case. As Louis helps with the investigation, he's reunited with his old girlfriend, Jo Frye, and is forced to confront his painful past.

Wrapped in the tenets of a private detective novel with overtones of a police procedural, "South of Hell" also successfully taps into the issues of domestic violence, Michigan's racial history and how the cavalier attitude of a young man can haunt his life. …