Tour’s Books Blog

January 23, 2010

Book Review: The First Rule by Robert Crais

My apologies for being missing in action.  I’ve been experiencing computer difficulties and two of my electronic babies are in the shop – one with a hard drive issue and one with a virus.  So I’m on a new, rather stripped down model, trying to carry on.  SIGH!  Please be patient while I get these issues resolved.  Thanks!

  • Title: The First Rule
  • Author: Robert Crais
  • Type:  Action thriller mystery
  • Genre:  Avenging crusader
  • Sub-genre:  Joe Pike kicks ass and kills bad guys
  • My Grade: B- (3.8*)
  • Rating: PG-17
  • Length and price: Full novel.  80,000 words for $26.95 and sold at significant discounts most places
  • Where Available: Anywhere books are sold
  • FTC Disclosure: Purchased from online bookstore

I’ve been a fan of Robert since he first published The Monkey’s Raincoat way back in 1987.  Long time.  Crais wasn’t one of those writers who regularly churned out a novel every 9 to 12 months.  At first, it would be 2 to 3 years between books.  It seems nearly every book he’s ever written, whether an Elvis Cole or one of his free-standing novels, gets multiple nominations for various book awards.  By and large these are merited.  Crais has accumulated a remarkable resume of great books and Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are outstanding characters.  The Watchman, Crais’ first novel where Joe Pike was the lead character, was very interesting as it gave a lot of insight into the past the shaped the character of Joe Pike.  The First Rule is missing that element.  Pike’s taciturn, tough guy is a great second lead, but without the depth his history provided in The Watchmen, he’s not as interesting or as entertaining as Elvis Cole.

The First Rule opens with a family man becoming the victim of a home invasion.  Frank Meyer had a wife and sons, a nice house in the LA suburbs, even a nanny.  Then one night he becomes the victim of a very organized home invasion that leaves the entire family dead and the nanny is critically wounded in the hospital.  On the dead man’s arms are very distinctive tattoos, tattoos like only one man in the LA area wears – forward pointing arrows on each bicep.  In the house is a photo of the victim with Joe Pike, both in uniform, back in the days when they worked as mercs.

Pike is out for his morning run wearing a backpack filled with 40 lbs of flour when he sees a bunch of cops trying to box him in.  The woman who had been chatting him up, veers off and heads to a porch and calls the cops.   He sits and listens to the news his former comrade.  Pike never knew about the tattoos Frank got – or that he had kept a framed photo of them on their last mission.  Convinced the cops are wrong about Frank being involved in anything shady, he decides to go after the killers himself.  His first stop after Frank’s house is the hospital.  The nanny’s sister has a distinctive eastern European accent – and a gun in her purse that she kept a death grip on the whole time Pike was in her sister’s room.

With the nanny dying, Pike needs to find answers elsewhere, so he starts hunting the home invasion crew.  Using contacts among other former mercs in his small group, he learns the name and former address of an ex-con the police are tracking as a prime suspect.  Pike swings into action, rather like a laconic Jack Reacher, and uses intimidation to find the gang through a cousin.  Unfortunately, they’re all dead, but the last member, the brains behind the group, had a “Russian” type accent.  Suddenly, Frank and his family don’t seem like random victims, but collateral damage.

Pike finds the nanny’s sister and learns she was involved with crime syndicate that runs various operations in the LA area, from ripping off credit card numbers to porn to prostitution.  The sister is Karina Markovic and she was hiding her son from the local Serbian mob boss, Michael Darko.  But Darko wanted his son back so he could leave the US and raise him in Serbia.

Now that Pike knows who did it and why, it becomes a baiting the bad guy and surviving the consequences.  The story flows very much along the lines of a Jack Reacher novel.  More action than depth.  Elvis Cole, The World’s Greatest Detective”, has a bit part as do a couple of Pike’s former team members.  The story is a shade predictable, but moves at a fast pace and is an ‘easy read’.  It lacks the humanity and character depth that usually mark a Crais novel, which I found disappointing.  The action is rather mindless and lacks the tension and punch of a great thriller.  It was a good book, but I expect more than a generic action thriller from Robert Crais, so it was also a bit disappointing.

Is The First Rule worth the price?  Well, I bought the hardcover for $12.50 and think for a few hours entertainment it was a bit pricey.  If you don’t mind a bit of mindless action that’s well told and easy to read, then buy and enjoy.  Or get it from your library.  Otherwise, wait for the paperback.  It didn’t make it to the ‘keeper’ shelf.  Worth a read.

Special Short:

For mystery lovers, I also read The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly.  It features Jack McEvoy, a journalist for a newspaper that needs a staff cut – and he’s it.  But he’s determined to go out with another Pulitzer worthy story, and finds himself drawn into solving a series of murders that have several solutions.  A good and intricate plot, but lacking believability, though the tension is good  It got a B- (3.8*) from me.   It has just been released in mass market.  Try and find the book at a discount.  I got it through an online book swapping site.



  1. I agree with almost everything you said. The Watchman is a favorite of mine, so I had high hopes for this one. Your right about the action, it was almost cartoonish in the way Joe escaped the fights with nary a scratch.

    BTW, have you read The Dawn Patrol? I read it’s sequel, The Gentleman’s Hour, recently and it was everything I hoped for The First Rule. A great, great read that unfortunately won’t be released here until Summer 2011. Thank goodness for the Book Depository.

    Comment by jenreads — January 25, 2010 @ 6:33 pm | Reply

  2. I still think the best Crais, and the best Pike back story, was in LA Requiem.

    The First Rule. ok about a three hour read. not really worth more than that, but I didn’t have to pay for a copy of the book.

    Comment by ming — February 8, 2010 @ 3:12 am | Reply

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