Johnny's Reviews > The Monkey's Raincoat

The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais
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May 12, 11

bookshelves: mystery
Read in May, 2011

Los Angeles and private eyes go together like M&Ms and trail mix. The mixture of sweet and salty is just perfect. From Spade through Archer (not to mention Chinatown’s Jake) to Bosch and beyond, it is an ideal setting for mysteries where the clock is ticking and the gumshoe has to fight not only the bad guys, but the spread-out venues which eventually define Greater Los Angeles. The Monkey’s Raincoat fits L.A. like a tailored overcoat fits Chicago. That’s almost an ironic observation because the mystery’s title comes from a saying about even monkey’s needing a raincoat in bad weather. L.A. has some nasty rainy seasons (usually lasting only two-three weeks) and some miserable Santa Ana conditions (when that hot wind blows, the suicide rate jumps like a horse in a steeplechase race), but one doesn’t usually think of L.A. and bad weather in the same context.

This mystery begins with a disappearance. Veteran mystery readers already suspect that the missing person will be D.O.D. (dead on discovery—I know it’s dumb—I just made it up), but there are enough mitigating circumstances that you aren’t positive. The person might have disappeared with an erstwhile and still “wants to be” actress client or the individual in question might have absconded with a valuable brick of narcotics that belongs to someone else. Complicate one disappearance with another (and later, another) and there is a pretty interesting plot here that is more than just a “who dun’ it.”

Of course, regular readers of the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels know that there will be plenty of corpses lining the boundaries of the mystery and that Robert Crais won’t take them down the simplest path to get there. Official police hostility toward Pike, unofficial police patronizing (read “contempt”) disrespect for Cole, and jurisdictional alpha male urination at Parker Center (and beyond) provide part of the tension that keeps the story at a rapid page-turning rate while a “monologuing” villain (though I use the disrespectful term from The Incredibles, there is nothing humorous about this bad guy) gives one a chance to pause and put the entire mystery into perspective.

Elvis Cole is a charming detective. He must be since almost every female he meets in this novel slinks out of her skirt. But, don’t let that fool you. It is also clear that there is usually an emotional bond between each woman and Cole, such that you suspect he really does have trouble keeping his emotions (read “hormones”) out of his professional life. This doesn’t appear to be mere James Bond-style “love ‘em and leave ‘em” sex (though, it functionally becomes just that when his emotional attraction is shifted). It seems like there is a real vulnerable spot within Cole that doesn’t exist in Pike and really resonates with me. I remember a period in my life when I realized that there had never been a really positive relationship with women for me and, as a result, thought I was falling in love with every woman who accidentally telegraphed a pheromone in my direction. I might be reading into this, but it “feels” like that’s what happens to Cole. On the other hand, while I really noticed it in this early novel in the series, I don’t remember it from the later ones so it could be something that didn’t exist or was jettisoned early. But this emotional involvement, whatever it was, kept me “grounded” and “caring” in this novel and that raised it up a notch in my opinion.

And, even better, there are some minor characters that show some real characterization. In most thrillers or mysteries, these young girls would simply be “victims” or “bait.” In The Monkey’s Raincoat, their conversation sounds just right and their attitudes are just like most modern youth. Yet, underneath the superficiality expressed, we discover some genuine feeling—not overdone, but just enough to ring true and sometimes, exposed through the negative instead of the positive. Frankly, this was the kind of book I expected to read over the course of a train commute or two. Instead, I read it right through.
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