Book Review: The Wanted by Robert Crais

Harvey and Stemms may sound like the name of a catalogue selling products for the affluent, but they are a pair of deadly assassins and the first characters we meet in Robert Crais’s gripping new novel, The Wanted.

Harvey and Stemms are hunting Tyson Connor, an awkward teenager who has robbed thousands of dollars in cash and jewelry from some very wealthy and dangerous people. His mother Devon sees a stolen $40,000 dollar watch in his room, figures out that Tyson is in trouble and hires private detective Elvis Cole (the self-proclaimed World’s Greatest Detective) to find him, as he’s suddenly disappeared. Harvey and Stemms quickly kill one of Tyson’s accomplices and Cole is in a race to find Tyson and unlock the mystery of what he’s stolen.

The Wanted is a relentless thriller that parallels Elvis Cole’s hunt for Tyson along with Harvey and Stemms, and I found myself engrossed by two terrible -- but remarkably compelling -- villains and sent Crais a note saying just that.

Fortunately, he responded immediately:

One dimensional villains bore me. Harvey and Stemms are villains, but I wanted them to be as complex and rich in their characterizations as Elvis and Joe. They have personal lives, they have a friendship that spans years, and a shared history. I got out of the way and let them talk. The things they said to each other made me laugh and made me cringe.

There’s less violence and action in The Wanted so it’s a bit of a departure from Crais’s standard Elvis Cole novel, however, I found the change to be most welcome. Crais continues to grow as a writer as do his characters, and I’ve never felt closer to Elvis Cole than I do now. It would be easy for Crais to crank out a formula book with his standard characters, but he’s far better than that.

The Wanted is a mystery that focuses on the emotional relationships of parents and children, and the pain Tyson’s mother feels is gut wrenching. Crais also introduces us to Carl, a computer nerd that we all know, and so realistically written it will make you laugh and possibly cry as well. The Wanted is not only a first-class thriller, it’s a study of teenage angst and the pain and frustration of raising a child. Growing up, and now especially as a parent, I’ve known my share of kids like Tyson and Carl and found that aspect of the book particularly moving, which I also mentioned to Crais.

Elvis Cole wants a family. Here he is, a single man, alone and lonely. He wants someone to love. He wants to be married, and have children, but all he has is a cat. The teenagers in the book, particularly Tyson and Carl, who are troubled, awkward kids, Elvis sees as the sons he doesn't have, the sons he'd like to father and guide, and help grow into men. Writing the scenes between Elvis and Tyson, and Elvis and Carl, touched me on so many deep levels. I can see myself in Elvis, and also in Tyson and Carl.

Crais’s last few books have focused more on Joe Pike, Jon Stone and Scott James (along with his dog Maggie). The Wanted brings private detective Elvis Cole back in his full glory, so if you’re a fan you’ll rejoice, while new readers can celebrate a welcome literary gift from a master of the craft.

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