Reviews of new mysteries by Robert Crais, T.G. Herren
‘Racing the Light’ by Robert Crais. Putnam, 368 pages, $29
The last time Robert Crais wrote about his mega-popular characters Los Angeles private detective Elvis Cole and his stoic ex-Marine sidekick, Joe Pike, was in the outstanding 2019 “A Dangerous Man.” But many people — even fictional ones — have been on hiatus these past few years.
So long-time readers — and new fans — should rejoice that the best-selling crime fighting duo are back with the tightly coiled “Racing the Light,” Crais’ 19th novel featuring the wise-cracking Elvis and the laconic Pike. Crais hits the ground running with “Racing the Light,” employing all his trademark touches: an engrossing plot-heavy story accented with Elvis’ wry humor, solid action, characters whom readers have come to love and a high entertainment level.
In “Racing the Light,” Elvis is hired by Adele Schumacher to find her son Josh, a low-level podcaster who relishes controversy, conspiracy theories and sightings of outer-space aliens. Josh has few listeners, and the 26-year-old is supported by his mother.
She arrives at Elvis’ office looking like a down-on-her-luck elderly woman thought she is accompanied by two bodyguards and a driver in a luxury car. Josh, it seems, may actually have uncovered a real story involving an adult film star and L.A. politicians involved in corruption.
Soon Elvis, with help from Pike, is up against a business cartel, Chinese spies and Adele’s protection team as they search for Josh. The murky background of Josh’s parents further hinders the search.
Crais keeps the action scenes on point with the twists coming fast. The deep friendship and respect that Elvis and Pike have for each other has been an ongoing hallmark of this series. Crais also complements the plot of “Racing the Light” with a poignant delve into Elvis’ personal life by bringing back his former girlfriend, Lucy Chenier. Elvis and Lucy have never stopped loving each other and these scenes between the couple as well as the relationship between Elvis and Ben, Lucy’s son, add depth to “Racing the Light.”
Welcome back, Elvis and Pike. Good to see you two again.
‘A Streetcar Named Murder’ by T.G Herren. Crooked Lane, 350 pages, $28.99
The prolific T.G. Herren — who has published about 36 novels under various names — launches a new series with the breezy, highly entertaining “A Streetcar Named Murder.”
Herren uses the amateur sleuth mystery to explore a woman crawling out of an emotional slump as she learns to reinvent herself. “A Streetcar Named Murder” also works as a story about the power of female friendships and a look at the cultures, nooks and crannies of New Orleans.
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Valerie Cooper has been “rudderless” since her husband, Tony, died five years ago. Now her bright twin sons are away at college. Valerie has devoted her life to her family and has no discernable job skills. Her best friends worry about Valerie’s inertia; she herself wonders just how many old movies she can watch on TCM between the constant cleaning she does in the large older house she and Tony carefully renovated when they were first married.
Valerie’s life changes when she inherits the estate of Tony’s estranged great uncle, including a 75 percent ownership in an antique business. Tony, a firefighter killed on the job, never mentioned his uncle Arthur. She also finds it odd that Arthur was never mentioned by the Coopers, a large, close-knit clan who believed “family was everything.”
Valerie knows nothing about antiques but is willing to learn and finds her sewing skills are in much demand, so she starts working at Rare Things Antiques and Estate Sales Company. The work, which includes investigating the background of antique pieces, gives her purpose — ”legends are worthless in this business,” she’s told.
Valerie finds a friend in longtime employee Dionne Williams. But Valerie isn’t welcomed by Randall Charpentier, who owns the other 25 percent of the antiques company and is its manager. He is upset that his late partner didn’t leave him the majority interest. Then a local realtor is murdered at a costume ball with an antique dagger that had come from the store.
The brisk pace of “A Streetcar Named Murder” is augmented by Herren’s affinity for wit and his skills at creating real, appealing characters. Valerie is the kind of character readers will want to be friends with. Seeing her blossom, reveling in being “appreciated” for her work, is a joy. Her solid friendships with her next-door neighbor and her lawyer give her strength as these two women want her to succeed and show their support many times.
Herren, who lives in New Orleans, shows aspects of the Big Easy that few visitors would know about, including neighborhood gentrification, a streetcar barn redone as a Whole Foods, and a primer on the krewes that are a major part of Mardi Gras.
Herren, who also writes the Chanse MacLeod and Scotty Bradley mysteries, adds another series to his oeuvre with “A Streetcar Named Murder.”