In The Promise, Elvis Cole has been hired to find Amy Breslyn, and in the second paragraph, with no preamble whatsoever Robert Crais drops us right into the middle of the action where something clearly unsavory is taking place.
A steady rain fell from the overcast night. The dingy, one-bedroom bungalow west of Echo Park reeked of bleach and ammonia, but the windows were closed, the shades were down, and the doors were locked. A single yellow twenty-five watt lamp provided the only light. The chemical smell gave Mr. Rollins a headache, but he could not open the windows. They were screwed shut.
Amy Breslyn is in that house. She's a chemical engineer whose company works for the Department of Defense manufacturing "fuels," which is a euphemism for plastic explosives. Breslyn has been distraught since her only child, Jacob (a journalist), was killed with 13 other people by a terrorist bomb in Nigeria. Now she's disappeared after extorting four hundred and sixty thousand dollars of her company's funds and Amy's boss has hired the self-proclaimed World's Greatest Detective to find her.
As soon as Amy Breslyn leaves the Echo Park house, LAPD descends on it and misses her as well as Mr. Rollins, the book's villain. Rollins is an extremely dangerous man and a formidable adversary for Cole and his partner Joe Pike, joined again by former Delta operator Jon Stone. Crais has deftly brought them together along with police officer Scott James and his K-9 partner Maggie from his previous book, Suspect. Scott and Maggie immediately come face to face with Mr. Rollins, who is able to escape, but just barely. Maggie then discovers a lethal cache of explosives in the Echo Park house and the action quickly takes off like a rocket.
LAPD is in hot pursuit of Mr. Rollins but unaware of Elvis Cole's search for Amy Breslyn. Why is an upright citizen like Amy consorting with thugs like Mr. Rollins? Why does her boss insist on secret meetings with Elvis Cole in parking lots? Why has Amy bought a gun and learned to shoot? And who is Charles, a handsome mystery man suddenly involved with a woman like Amy, who's been described as an anonymous blur?
The Promise is a strong ensemble piece where every character gets an opportunity to shine, especially Maggie. Crais not only loves dogs, but he understands them beautifully and his descriptions of how a dog thinks and acts are informative and fascinating. We've all seen TSA dogs at airports but Crais not only gives us insight into how they are as important as any state-of-the-art technology, but he also explains their feelings for us as well. The book is carefully plotted and the story guides us though a complex investigation so we not only learn police procedures but also get to appreciate Amy Breslyn and the relationship she had with her son. Another key aspect of the plot involves the deadly Mr. Rollins, who intends on protecting his identity by killing Scott and Maggie.
I am a huge fan of Crais's work and I believe his books must be treated like a fine bottle of wine and consumed slowly over a certain period of time in order to be properly enjoyed. However, once I opened The Promise I could not put it down. Not only is the plot totally engrossing, but Amy Breslyn's story grabbed me by my emotional lapels and wouldn't let go. I finished the book in a day and then read it again, the second time with more patience.
I spoke with Crais on the phone and mentioned that it was an unusually long wait (nearly two years) between his books, hence my lack of restraint. "I put a lot of thought and experimentation into developing this book, so it ended up taking longer," said Crais. I commented on the seamless manner in which he's brought so many of his previous characters together in one story and he explained that "there are definitely levels of complexity in the book, but I didn't want it to appear that way."
Of course I want my novels to be page turners, but my books are about something deeper. The key to this story is truly about Amy Breslyn and what she's experienced and gone through. It's about how this impacts on all of the other characters and how it relates to them and what we as a nation have gone through with all of the insanity that's affected the world since 9/11.
Nothing is pat and simple in The Promise but it's impossible not to feel the loss of a child as experienced Amy Breslyn in the book. It's a complex thriller that deals with important issues and the emotions and pain we suffer as a result. We have all been touched by 9/11 and its aftermath. Elvis Cole, Joe Pike and Jon Stone are not supermen, but flawed heroes who maintain a code of ethics and in this story, a promise.
Not many writers can boast a body of work like Crais. He's created so many distinct personalities over the years and yet he's able to bring many of them together here with amazing ease and style. Fans of his work will delight in the conglomeration of characters assembled in The Promise, while new readers will be introduced to a writer they'll adore. Too many best-selling authors are content with writing formula novels, but Crais - like a fine wine - just keeps getting better with age.
(The Promise will be available for sale on November 10th 2015)