Sunday 26 August 2012

Jen Forbus's Book To Die For - L.A Requiem by Robert Crais

Jen Forbus blogs at the Anthony Award nominated blog Jen'sBook Thoughts.  Before coming to the crime fiction community she taught high school English, wrote technical manuals for a computer software company and developed online training for professionals in the college store industry.  These days she's combining her love of the technical and the literary by working with a web design company that specializes in author websites.  Jen also dabbles in other freelance work including reviewing for Crimespree Magazine and Shelf Awareness for Readers.  When her nose isn't stuck in a book or a computer, she is at the beck and call of her two chocolate labs and four rescue cats.  The stork dropped her mistakenly in Northeast Ohio and try as she might, she hasn't escaped it yet.

Private investigator Elvis Cole and his long-time partner, Joe Pike, are summoned to investigate the murder of Pike’s ex-girlfriend, the daughter of a prominent L.A. businessman.  Through the course of the investigation, Pike’s history with the L.A. Police Department surfaces and old wounds are scratched open, threatening to destroy the fiercely loyal partners.

L.A. Requiem is the book I most often suggest people read when they ask for recommendations.  Whether they’re new to the genre or crime fiction fans, if they haven’t read it, I send them post haste to the nearest bookstore or library.  I also have a rather worn paperback that I allow people to borrow, but it’s not likely to last much longer.  Note to self: replace the loaner copy of L.A. Requiem.

I believe L.A. Requiem was pivotal in creating the modern crime genre.  By definition genre is a set of rules or expectations, but Robert Crais proved that genre is also a living entity.  It has room to grow and morph without becoming a completely different creature.

Elvis Cole embodies many of the characteristics of the classic private investigator character.  Crais’ novels with Cole followed the traditional first person narrative up to Indigo Slam, and then he just leapt off the cliff with L.A. Requiem.  Crais took the silly putty that is genre and said, if I push this little corner a bit in this direction, I still have my silly putty – it didn’t break – but by gosh, I think this shape works better for the story I need to tell.  And therein lies the key, it is the story he needed to tell, rather than the rules he needed to follow.

In L.A. Requiem Crais explores a depth in his characters that demands the audience not only read the book but also be a part of it, invest in it, bring their own experiences to the table, and in essence give a part of themselves to the book.  The relationships of the characters to one another compound that effect.

L.A. Requiem is a book that demands multiple readings.  There are so many layers to the plot, so much significance in every small element, that to fully appreciate it, one has to read it several times.  I’m also an advocate for listening to someone else read it aloud.  The first time I heard an audio version of L.A. Requiem I heard a new voice (not the one in my own head) and a new interpretation.  Suddenly I was asking myself new questions.

Robert Crais has influenced and continues to influence modern crime fiction writers, and I would argue that he has done that more so with L.A. Requiem than any of his other novels, so to appreciate the genre as whole as it is in the 21st Century, a fan should appreciate the evolution that brings it to where we are now.  L.A. Requiem is a part of that evolution.

L.A. Requiem is also standing the test of time.  Does it reflect the 1990s when Crais was writing the novel?  Absolutely.  But it isn’t dependent on that period; it’s dependent on concepts that are timeless: murder, betrayal, love, friendship, loyalty. 

And if that rationale seems too hoity-toity then how about, “people just freaking love this book every time I recommend it.”  I have converted many a person to the chapel of the Craisies with L.A. Requiem.  It’s a drug that’s nearly, if not impossible to resist.  L.A. Requiem made me a crime fiction fan and it still tops my list of favourite books within or outside the genre.

1 comment:

Naomi Johnson said...

You said what I believe is the most important point about LA Requiem: Crais broke the rules about POV, time-shifting, etc., because that's what was needed to tell the story. There simply was no other way to tell the story effectively. It has recently become fashionable to break those rules in order to be a literary rebel, but when rule-breaking obfuscates the story rather than illuminating it, the author has made some bad choices. Crais never puts a literary foot wrong in LA Requiem, whether he follows the rules or not.