Monday, February 18, 2019

Review: Taken

Taken Taken by Robert Crais
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If I ever get kidnapped I want Joe Pike looking for me.

Private detective Elvis Cole gets hired to find a young woman because she dropped out of sight for a few days. The mother suspects that her daughter is with a boyfriend that she disapproves of, and that this is a case of college aged kids just off having some irresponsible fun. However, Elvis quickly figures out that the couple were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and were swept up as part of scheme in which illegal immigrants crossing into the US are kidnapped and held for whatever ransom their loved ones can scrape together. Cole enlists the help of his partner Joe Pike and has a plan to locate the missing kids, but things go sideways and Cole ends up being held, too. With the help of a fellow mercenary Pike begins a methodical hunt for his friend.

This one has all the hallmarks of your typical Cole & Pike novel. Elvis runs around doing some clever detective work while Pike shows up at opportune moments to unleash hell, and Crais has mastered using that formula with these characters to deliver exciting crime/action novels. Unfortunately, I think Crais fell into a trap of his own making here that hurts the story.

It’s clear from the title and book jacket summary that Elvis is going to get kidnapped and that Pike will have to find him. I saw Crais in an interview at Bouchercon back in 2011 in which he mentioned that the book he was writing at that time involved Elvis being taken and Pike getting him back. So that’s obviously the hook he started with and built the novel around. It’s a good idea for a story so I understand why Crais committed to it early on.

However, to really do that idea then Elvis should probably get snatched by the end of the first act, and that means that rest of the story would be on Pike’s shoulders with Elvis being a supporting player. Crais has done that before in a couple of Pike-centric book so it shouldn’t be a problem, but for some reason he wanted Elvis to be a big part of this one doing his usual detective thing. So to keep the core idea of Elvis being kidnapped in place while still making him an active figure in the plot Crais structured the book so that it flash forwards to the point after Elvis has been taken with Pike on the hunt along with the parallel story of Elvis trying to find the woman.

The problem is that by telling us that Cole is going be kidnapped from the jump it just makes his story a foregone conclusion which robs it of its drama. At the same time even with the flash-forwards he doesn’t get the Pike on the hunt piece really moving until the third act. Since that’s the story I was told this book was about and because the structure keeps reminding me that it’s coming, I was kind of tapping my foot the entire time I was reading and just wishing that we’d get to the fireworks factory already.

I probably would have liked this better if Crais had just fully committed to Cole kidnapping plot and had it happen much sooner and told the story in a linear fashion. Or he could have sold this book as it just being another Cole/Pike case about them looking for a kidnapped woman and saved the Cole kidnapping as a plot turn at the end of the second act. Crais is pretty good at throwing unexpected twists in at times, and that could have been a real doozy. Then the third act could have been Pike’s relentless hunt to find his friend, and it would have been a lot tenser.

As it is, it felt like Crais really fell in love with that elevator pitch of “Cole gets taken. Pike has to find him.” But then he couldn’t bear to just let Cole play that role. So he tried to have his cake and eat it, too.

It’s still a pretty solid book in an entertaining series, but I still feel a little disappointed in the way it played out.

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