Tour’s Books Blog

January 26, 2011

Book Review: The Sentry by Robert Crais

  • Title: The Sentry (Joe Pike Book #3)
  • Author:  Robert Crais
  • Type:  Mystery Thriller
  • Genre:  Avenging crusader meets twisted reality
  • Sub-genre:  Pike breaks up a beatdown of a shop owner and gets involved when they disappear
  • My Grade: B- (3.8*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full novel – about 90,000 words for $14.00-16.00 on sale; list $26.95
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased from online bookstore

Joe Pike has always been the ‘mystery man’ of the Elvis Cole series, Like Hawke in the Spenser books by Robert Parker, his was the dangerous side-kick who had a deep personal bond with the hero.  In The Watchman, readers finally got to see behind the curtain to heart of what made Joe Pike what he is.  It was something of a masterwork for Crais.  Darker, more introspective and revealing than his lighter, more accessible Cole books.  Crais always had a dark thread running through his stories – child abuse, mobsters, corrupt cops, child kidnapping, and the sadness of Cole’s breakup with his love, Lucy Chenier.   In The Watchman, the story behind what happened when Pike was on the force and caused his leaving and subsequent shunning by the cops was finally told.  It’s kind of tough follow-up such a book with one that matches it.  His next Pike story was, The First Rule, another storyline that again tied Pike with his past, but is was more a classic avenging crusader tale and not up to The Watchman level.  The Sentry kind of sits between the two – overall much better on many levels that The First Rule, but not the equal of The Watchman.

The Sentry opens with a bizarre chapter about a murder in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.  It includes mention of things like hunting zombies and vampires.  Hang tough and trust Crais.  Chapters move points of view, mostly flowing seamlessly, except those that are seen from the killer’s perspective.  They jar the reader, deliberately and effectively.  It moves to present day LA where Pike is filling is spotlessly clean red Jeep and watching the neighborhood in Venice, CA.  Two Latino gangbangers come down the street, body language all but screaming trouble is about happen.  They enter a small shop selling po’boys.  Pike, being Pike, crosses the road and finds them beating the shop owner.  He puts them down in classic Pike fashion and waits for the cops.

Next day Pike comes back and finds the front window broken and paint all over.  The shop owner, Wilson Smith, blames Pike for intervening the day before for his current mess, but Lucy is grateful.  Pike goes further and involves a Mexican new age gang lord getting a promise to leave the two alone.  When he goes back after a meeting with the hip young gang leader, he and the Lucy go to lunch.  Next day, the shop is wrecked and the uncle and niece are missing.  Pike asks Cole for help.  The plot twists and turns as Cole uncovers a lot about the two people Pike is trying to find and protect.

What’s right about this book – the writing is crisp and clean and Pike and Cole ring true to character.  The plot twists and turns worked for me.  The unraveling of lies on lies on lies to finally get to the truth.  What didn’t work, were the sections from Daniel’s point of view.  They just never succeed in making the ‘villain’ creepy enough or real enough.  He just never really worked.  Some writers have a real gift for crafting characters that make you want to sleep with the light on, make you want your very own Joe Pike.  Daniel remained formless and confusing – dangerous, yes.  Creepy, not so much.  I admire Crais for trying, but Thomas Harris he ain’t.  Even Jon Land’s Blaine MacCracken and Jack Kerley’s Carson Ryder both have antagonists/characters that make the reader check the locks.  Crais does much better with crafty thugs and cunning scumbags that true psychotics.  In Lullaby Town, the father/son mobsters felt both violent and true, but he just couldn’t quite capture the essence of the psychotic insanity in Daniel.  This miss matters a lot in building the tension toward the big denouement.

Is The Sentry worth $14-15?  Borderline.  It is a good read, but not equal to The Watchman.  It is worth it for the clean, crisp writing.  Worth a read by any Crais fan and good story that was well told with that one shortcoming on the villain.

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