The problem with Pike is he’s perfect.
When Joe Pike — the hero at the broken heart of “The First Rule” — was private detective Elvis Cole’s sometimes sidekick and always silent partner, there was an air of mystery about him that left Robert Crais’ many fans aching for more.
Now that Crais has started Pike’s own occasional series, the mystery has faded and we pretty much know what we’re going to get when Pike steps onto the page — perfection. There’s no question Pike’s going to outsmart the cops and the crooks and achieve his goal, and we’re going to cheer him all the way. It’s Pike, after all, the former soldier, mercenary and cop who has played zenlike straight man to Cole’s clown for 16 years.
In “The First Rule,” the second installment in the Pike series following 2007’s “The Watchman,” Pike’s old buddy Frank “The Tank” Meyer has been brutally murdered along with his family in a home invasion that doesn’t appear to be about robbery.
The cops are stumped, searching down blind alleys with the help of equally lost federal authorities who are sniffing around the edges of the investigation.
Within a few dozen pages, he’s following his own thread on the path to cold vengeance. Soon, the cops are pumping him for information, following him from crime scene to crime scene, and having trouble keeping up.
There’s no way to describe more of the plot without giving away a few key details. Really, though, the plot is irrelevant. We’re reading “The First Rule” because we want to pal around with Pike and Cole.
Unlike “The Watchman,” however, there isn’t much Cole in this novel. He’s got a few key scenes and a handful of halfhearted one-liners, but Crais has rolled back his personality to push Pike to the forefront, and the relatively taut book suffers from it.
“The First Rule” is the kind of book that Crais’ fans will devour like sweet, sweet candy. New readers should turn their attention to his earlier works featuring Cole and Pike for an introduction to the wisecracking PI and his taciturn pal.
Pick up the Cole series debut, “The Monkey’s Raincoat,” and let Crais dazzle you.
‘THE FIRST RULE’ (Putnam, 308 pages, $26.95), by Robert Crais