When baseball players are in a slump, there’s an old school remedy for doing something on the side to help break out of it. It’s called finding a “slumpbuster.” I’m not going to talk about what it actually is since it’s rooted in horrific misogyny (and I suggest you don’t google it either) but I’m going to take the germ of an idea (minus the misogyny) and apply it to reading.
Finishing books has been a chore lately and I was disheartened at how much I didn’t like Philip Kerr’s Metropolis so it took me a few false starts before I came to this one. I don’t have the best history with Robert Crais. Stalking the Angel is one of the worst books I ever finished and I’ve tried a few more of his without much success. They’re the kind of bestseller/dad-lit books I tend to avoid; cliches left and right, tough guy dialogue mixed with wisecracks galore, no sensitivity beyond the plight of the white working man.
But they are readable. And I crave LA noirs. So when I heard this was inspired by the OJ Simpson trial, I decided to pick it up. For the first 50%, I’m glad I did. Crais got the memo on how annoying Elvis was in his earlier books and he’s sincerely toned down. I really appreciated that. The beginning of the book itself, with scenes minus Elvis, was pulse pounding and I imagined that had it been written by Michael Connelly, it would have been much better. Yet even when Elvis begins doing his thing, I still found myself relatively entertained. It was sailing towards a 3-star read.
Of course, like a lot of people post-OJ, Elvis has a big problem with how it all went down. The lawyers, the crooks, guys getting off scot free! (Is it “scot free”, “scott free” or “Scott free”?). It helps that he switches the races of the perp and the attorneys but it’s still problematic: cops good, those guys bad. Crais’ generation took all the wrong lessons from Chandler, Hammett and Macdonald. Chandler’s Marlowe was an anti-system dude who hated cops. Hammett’s Red Harvest was basically an apology for his Pinkerton days. Macdonald’s Archer occasionally worked with DAs but almost always had a run in with some overeager foot patrolman. It wasn’t all tough talking, hard drinking, dame screwing real men. Those classics were critiques against the system. Many contemporary PIs like Elvis Cole generally work through the system.
You can write a novel with police corruption and have it be nuanced and respectful to law enforcement. Michael Connelly threads this needle sometimes. But man, this could have, should have been better. This should have finally been my gateway to this series. And instead, I just ended it annoyed.
On the flip side: slump busted! I now look forward to reading something better.